By Bobbie Brigman, Executive Director
Sometimes, in spite of our own ambitions, God shows us wonderful mercies and opportunities we never even dreamed of. Weary of stints in “corporate America,” one of our founders decided to follow her heart. She had always (since the age of 12) dreamed of having a small “mom-and-pop” restaurant. In April of 2010, she got her wish! Located on the east end of PCB and with much excitement, the doors opened! Unfortunately, that same month, the biggest man-made disaster in U.S. history unfolded — the BP oil spill. National media displayed images of massive amounts of crude oil gushing into our beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Folks all around the country were subjected to that sight daily (and almost hourly). As we know, little-to-no oil ever reached our beautiful beaches in Bay County! But the national news had already conveyed the wrong message.
The damage was done. The summer of 2010 saw a huge down-tick in tourists visiting our area. The little cafe was doomed. After fulfilling the one-year lease, the other founders got together and brainstormed. It was about that time it was discovered that 25% of our local children suffer from chronic hunger most of the time. It was a fact that both dismayed and angered us! We decided “if we can’t sell food, let’s just give it away!” With the damage settlement received from BP, Food4Kidz emerged! Out of the ashes of a broken dream, another better one was born. Food4Kidz was formally incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization on August 24, 2011. Their mission? To identify and directly assist hungry children in the local community.
The Local Dilemma
Of the 28,000+ Bay District School students, 25% (yes, unbelievably 1-in-4 or about 8,000) live in a “food insecure” household. That means, that on any given day, there is little to nothing for them to eat. That number doesn’t include children ages infant to four years-old.
We at Food4Kidz are determined to change that!
Malnourished children face a much greater chance of developing life-threatening illnesses and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, “stunted growth,” neurological deficits, poor vision and dental status, asthma, anemia, and more. Malnourished children have many more doctor and hospital visits than well-nourished children.
These “at risk” children are not able to concentrate in class and have trouble retaining what they’ve learned. They are often tired and listless. They hesitate to participate in physical activities and social settings. They are at risk for failure, period.
These are the children of our future generation. They are in danger of repeating the cycle of poverty in which they find themselves. With proper nutrition, they have a chance to develop normally. With proper nutrition, they have a real chance to thrive academically, socially, and economically. With proper nutrition, they have an excellent opportunity to become healthy, strong, educated, crime-free, contributing, successful adults.
What Food4Kidz Is Doing About The Problem
Families with children who struggle with food insecurity are able to shop once a month, by appointment. (There are exceptions for emergencies). Each family receives about 125-150 lbs. of food and supplies at a time (depending upon availability) which lasts approximately two weeks.
Foods distributed include quality meats; fresh fruits and vegetables; dairy products; fresh bread and grains; as well as canned, packaged, and dry goods. The goal is to distribute enough food to enable a family to prepare healthy meals at home for about two weeks. This helps families pay other essential household expenses such as rent and utilities. We have received reports that because of the assistance they received, some families have not become homeless.
In addition to food assistance, Food4Kidz offers “emergency relief” to help families who are facing eviction, the loss of electricity, or other essential services. Assistance is provided on a case-by-case basis, depending on the availability of funds.
Food4Kidz is the only organization of its kind in Bay County and is open year-round. Because Food4Kidz is an agency of “Feeding The Gulf Coast” (affiliated with Feeding America), we are able to pick up food and supplies twelve times a week directly from local grocers. We then distribute it to our local families by appointment.
Depending upon availability, Food4Kidz distributes 18+ tons of food every month. On average, Food4Kidz reaches more than 320 families monthly or about 1,920 persons. That equates to more than 3,840 families yearly or 23,040 persons yearly of which more than 12,900 are children.
Food4Kidz is also a designated Disaster Relief Agency in case of emergencies or natural disasters. Since Hurricane Michael, and in the aftermath of the global Covid-18 pandemic, the need has never been greater.
Food4Kidz is honored and humbled to have been awarded recognition along the way such as Gulf Power’s Amplify! Grant to assist in recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, the “Humanitarians of the Year” Award by the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce in 2017, and Gulf Power’s “Power of Service” Award in 2016. They were also recognized by the City of Panama City Beach and City of Panama City with the designation of the month of May as “Child Hunger Awareness Month” in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. Grants from organizations such as the St. Joe Community Foundation in 2013 and 2019 have also helped Food4Kidz distribute more than 40,000 tons of food to local families in Bay County.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Why do you need monetary support? Food4Kidz receives no government assistance. We must rely on the kindness and generosity of our wonderful local community to serve as many struggling families with children as possible. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, no fundraising events have occurred due to the inability to gather. We hope to resume those in the near future. In fact, to commemorate our tenth anniversary, we are planning to host a celebration in early fall, 2021.
2. Why did you establish Food4Kidz? Food4Kidz was founded in response to the discovery that such a large percentage (25%) of our local children live in a “food insecure” household. We find that fact to be totally unacceptable!
3. Who are your clients? How do they hear about you? Many have asked, “Are the parents of these hungry kids just lazy?” Fair question. The answer is “no.” Although there are a small number of exceptions, many of the scenarios are:
• The global Covid-19 pandemic. With massive job losses and uncertainty of family incomes, hunger has become a rampant problem.
• Hurricane Victims—Many of our clients are still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Michael.
• Grandparents who have suddenly “inherited” their grandchildren to raise. They often are trying to make ends meet on a fixed, limited income.
• Single moms trying to work (maybe, in some cases, two jobs), go to school to better themselves, and properly care for their children.
• Veterans-26% of our clients are vets.
• Hard-working men and women who are self-employed and who have become severely injured (or disabled) and are unable to work. They don’t receive workmen’s compensation or unemployment benefits but still need to provide for their families.
• Recently widowed or divorced heads-of-household who suddenly find themselves alone and responsible for feeding their children and carrying on life as normally as possible.
• Homeless children and teens (yes, unbelievably we have homeless children and youth in our beautiful community-especially following Hurricane Michael)
• Seasonal workers (especially in the local tourism industry) who suddenly lose their jobs and have no other employment prospects.
• Senior citizens-about 18% of our clients are over the age of 60.
• Bottom-line: Food4Kidz strives to assist our local families and children who face hunger daily!
Food4Kidz receives referrals from schools, churches, businesses, civic groups, local and state agencies, community partners, and concerned citizens.
4. What are the requirements to receive assistance? A valid I.D. and a need. Food4Kidz doesn’t require personal information or proof of income. Food4Kidz does not belong to any “databases” or “keep tabs” on individuals. Food4Kidz does not seek to embarrass anyone. We believe that if a person is brave enough to ask for assistance, the experience should be as pleasant and stress-free as possible. This is especially important for the children’s sake. This philosophy has worked very well for over seven-and-a-half years. Although we are primarily a children’s charity, we turn no one away!
5. Since you are a member agency of “Feeding America,” isn’t the food you pick up and distribute free? No. Although the cost per pound is low, because of the volume of food purchased each month, there is a cost involved.
6. Doesn’t the school system meet most of these children’s nutritional needs? No, unfortunately. Although our schools do a good job when children are there (with breakfasts and lunches), they are away from school 87% of the time. These “at-risk” kids must rely on sources other than school for 67% of their meals. When you factor in afternoons, nights, weekends, holidays, spring break, and summer break, that’s a lot of time away from school. Even if the schools offer summer nutrition programs, the children still must have transportation to and from school. So, as you can see, the need is tremendous!
7. Are you a backpack program? No. We are a full-service food bank. Although weekend backpack programs are very well-intentioned, reportedly other (hungry) family members are also present when a child arrives home on Friday afternoon. The backpack contents probably don’t last the night, much less the entire weekend.
Food4Kidz strives to offer families the opportunity to have first-quality groceries with which to prepare wholesome, complete meals in the home throughout the week, weekends, holidays, as well as spring and summer breaks.
8. How do families receive assistance? A head of household or primary adult family member can call to make an appointment and come to the Food4Kidz storehouse. They receive assistance in a private, pleasant, confidential, professional setting.
9. What are your main organizational goals? We want to make top-quality nutrition available to the greatest number of struggling families with children as humanly possible, as well as encourage families to prepare and share meals at home (and increase family communication around the dinner table). We also want to deliver services in a positive, confidential setting with emphasis on compassion and utmost professionalism. Our most important goal? To ultimately put ourselves out of business.
We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to share “The Food4Kidz Story” with you. We look forward to meeting the needs of our local hungry children and their families throughout Bay County! You can help us by donating to our website: www.food4kidz.org (click the secure “Donate” button), or by mailing a check to 22811 PCB Parkway, #26, PCB, FL 32413, or by calling (850) 624-7485 and we will be happy to pick up a donation!