Mobile food pantry returns to Okeechobee on Monday

OKEECHOBEE — United Against Poverty will bring the mobile food pantry to back to Okeechobee on Monday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Our Village, 1703 S.W. Second Ave.

The mobile food pantry will offer:
• Flats of 30 eggs for $1;
• Cases of 360 eggs for $10;
• Box of mixed produce (lettuce, bananas, cauliflower and pineapple) for $5; and,
• Case of Frito-Lay products for $3.

The mobile food pantry is open to everyone.

Cars will line up in the Brahman Theatre Parking lot — as they did for the first mobile pantry on April 20 — and will be directed to go from there to the driveway at Our Village in an orderly manner.

Participants are reminded they must stay in their cars and bring exact change for the items they wish to purchase.

Those loading food will wear masks and gloves and follow all health and safety recommendations.

About United Against Poverty

United Against Poverty works with some Okeechobee County residents at their Fort Pierce location, but the April 20 pantry was their first visit to Okeechobee County.

“I really loved Okeechobee,” said Canieria Gardner of UAP. “The community at large is just so friendly and the people are just so warm.”

She said the April 20 visit went so well they were eager to return.

“We are an anti-poverty organization,” she explained. “We have four core programs to help someone exit poverty.”

She said the program offers “a hand up” and not “a handout.”

While the Okeechobee mobile food pantry is open to everyone, regardless of income, the other UAP programs are designed for those whose incomes are below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. For a household of four, that’s $52,400; for one person, $25,520.

The core program is a member share grocery where individuals can save up to 70 percent of retail value for food, she said. The Florida facilities are in Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Orlando.

She said people who have food insecurity often have other things going on in their lives.

UAP has a crisis stabilization program to find out why they have food insecurity and to help alleviate the crisis.

“We also have an emergency food pantry because sometimes people have no money,” she said, but most people want to pay something, to have the dignity of providing for their families.

In addition, UAP has an education program with workshops to help someone improve their situation and their life, she continued.

“We look at the root of property and why someone is in poverty.”

The Success Training Employment Program or STEP offers six weeks of classes on work readiness skills, job acquisition skills and emotional intelligence, she explained. (Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.)

UAP has more than 160 employer partners who offer jobs for those in the program. When a participant is hired, a case manager continues to work with that person for three years on a “success plan.”

They work with the participant to implement a career plan.

“We have had a lot of success with individuals being promoted in their jobs,” said Ms. Gardner.

“Social services can create a cycle of dependency,” she said. “We would rather give you the tools to be successful.”

Ms. Gardner said all of their programs honor individual and family dignity of the participants. “We find most people want to take pride in buying things for their family,” she said.

Even their holiday toy programs require a discounted price for the toys. There are a lot of well-intentioned free toy giveaway programs at holiday time, Ms. Gardner explained. These can create stress in a family. “Sometimes that father is embarrassed that he can’t provide for the family and he and the mother argue, and the children are exposed to that. Instead of offering free toys, they “deeply discount” the toys. “They take the pride in purchasing what their family needs,” she said. “A person’s dignity is really important. It gives the father pride so the mother and father are not arguing in front of that child.

“Our founder grew up in poverty and his parents went to pantries for food and get items for free and he remembered what it made his parents feel like and what he felt like as a child,” she said. “We understand how important it is for that individual to have dignity intact.”

She said the program has members in Okeechobee County. “Because of what is going on because of COVID-19, we felt the need to reach to the whole community,” she continued.

“Leah (Suarez at Our Village) has been wonderful,” she said. “Her volunteers and staff have welcomed us with open arms. We are looking forward to a strong partnership with them.”

She said when she started with the program, someone described the participants as “angels with broken wings. The more we love them, the more we help to heal those wings.”

Ms. Gardner said for those interested in their other programs, they will bring applications to the mobile pantry on Monday. Membership is free.

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