Local agencies help fill the gap in food insecurity

OKEECHOBEE — This article may evoke some emotion in you, one way or the other. Those who know me know that I am outspoken, and stand on what I believe. I have struggled with food insecurity for periods in my life and enjoyed food security through most of it — as evidenced by my “very healthy frame.” This is why I am so passionate in ensuring those who are insecure have access to the food they need to support health and life. With that said, I also am concerned with the loving community we have, where no one wishes for a child (or anyone else) to go to bed hungry. For many months, Our Village has been working behind the scenes on what is known as a Collective Impact Model for our community moving forward. Our plans have been interrupted, but then I have to think, interrupted? Propelled? Or a hidden outcome of this COVID 19 pandemic?

What I have seen in the past is a misuse of resources in our community, but I have also seen great need. I have also seen both need and greed through this pandemic, but the great thing is that all those who routinely provide services, especially food, are all having conversations now. We are comparing notes. We are on the same page. We are the ones who are entrusted to care for our donors’ wishes. We are the ones that are tasked with holding folks accountable. Local food pantries are open on their appointed dates, and they are stocked. The Treasure Coast Food Bank has a link where you can locate food pantries near you. Visit stophunger.org/findhelp/.

This pandemic is different than anything we have seen over our life courses. Similar to a recession, this has middle-class and upper-middle-class families affected by layoffs and furloughs, and a lack of knowledge about the public services available to them at a time like this. Those living at or below poverty are used to having to scrounge and make difficult choices. For parents with kids, do we buy an extra package of meat or do we stock up on ramen noodles because they are cheap and entirely unhealthy but affordable? For our seniors, I have personally witnessed seniors who ensure they have adequate supplies and food for their pets before they ensure they have enough food for themselves. Living alone as a senior gets very lonely, so having a pet is very important. In fact, my own father’s cat ate better than he did!

We have one of the most kind and generous communities. We providers all have a collective obligation to assure their donations and charity are used to impact the most people in the best manner. That, my friends, is hard. Sometimes we have to set limits and sometimes we have to say no. How do we do that at Our Village? First we give the benefit of the doubt. We would not want someone who is really in need to go without. Next we ensure that we are serving only those folks who live in Okeechobee County or the surrounding areas like Buckhead Ridge, Kissimmee River Estates, Yeehaw Junction as examples. We saw from the last attempt to serve people and get food into their hands that we ended up with many residents turned away. At this time the Treasure Coast Food Bank will be getting food into our community, just not through the food truck event at the Ag Center, until we can get back to doing it safely because of the COVID-19 issue.

So here are the options for food from Our Village Okeechobee. We will have food available with photo ID. We ask that there only be one person coming to pick up. You will knock on the door, and step back behind our table. The food will be placed on the table, after you answer a few simple questions and present your photo ID. You will then need to carry the items to your car. We ask that only one person is on the ramp at any given time to ensure social distancing. If you are elderly, you may walk up, knock and return to your car. We will bring it to you in your car, but you will need to open and close your door or trunk.

One question we will be sure to ask: Are you receiving or have you applied for SNAP/food stamps? We are asking that question because those who receive SNAP will see an increase in benefits for the months of March and April. This should be sufficient for nearly all families to make sure they have adequate food supplies. We will always err on the side of caution, but ask that you remember we are trying to feed hundreds of families. We would like our food to reach those who have been laid off or furloughed and are awaiting SNAP assistance.

This coming week we will implement a voucher system in partnership with Ferrell’s Market. Residents will check in at Our Village and get shelf-stable items. Then you will be provided a voucher to redeem at Ferrell’s Market on State Road 70 West for a predetermined amount of meat and or vegetables. This will help reduce our volunteer workload. It also connects you to a fresh market, where when you use SNAP benefits to purchase items, you receive tokens for free produce on a later visit. It’s like doubling your SNAP benefits!

SNAP assistance can be confusing for many people, and with the overwhelming applications that the state currently has, we have decided that we would hire a part-time community health worker who is experienced in walking people through the process of applying for assistance. She will be available between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., by appointment. Only one person from the household will be allowed into Our Village. We will have adequate precautions to protect our staff and the applicant. She will also be available to help resolve any issues you may have with your case. If you are in need of Medicaid or other public assistance benefits, she can help with that as well. This service is free, but we reserve the right to serve anyone if there is not strict adherence to the rules set in place to protect our staff.

Finally, we try to push out information through our Facebook page: Our Village Okeechobee. Go like our page so you can keep up to date. Additionally, if you feel led to donate, we would be happy to accept your tax-deductible donation via Facebook, check or in person. Our mailing address is Our Village Okeechobee, P.O. Box 1534, Okeechobee, FL 34973. Our physical location is at 1703 S.W. Second Ave. It is a small white house located on the corner of Southwests 17th Street and Southwest Second Avenue. We are directly across from Pogey’s and next to Pritchard’s.

We look forward to helping now and in the future. We thank all of our hard-working volunteers and our many donors. Without you, there is no village.

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