Veggie giveaways feed hungry, finance farmers

Lake Okeechobee News/Danika J. Hopper
The H.E. Hill Foundation’s free vegetable distribution served nearly 500 families at this site in Montura.

With so many experiencing loss of income, local food banks being overwhelmed and this crisis continuing to affect us indefinitely, a local alliance of several individuals and groups was recently formed to provide food to those in underserved areas during these tough times. The arrangements were made quickly, as the need was great.

It started when Jennifer Earnest, vice president of the H.E. Hill Foundation Inc., found Milo James selling fresh, Florida-grown produce from the back of his truck in Montura. He had lost his job as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and was working to both provide food to the area while supplementing his income. Ms. Earnest saw that the area was being underserved and overwhelmed when it came to access to food distribution, and approached Mr. James to see if he would be willing to help. They made a plan to buy boxes of produce, then set up a distribution site in Montura.

“This week, Americana stood up! This is a farming community story! One day you keep seeing a tomato guy named Milo James, always advertising his tomatoes for sale. You message him saying you have an idea to help buy — yes, buy, not get donations as farmers have donated so much already from farmers struggling — then pay to distribute but give food out for free to the Montura Ranch area. To say Montura needed rallying during these times is an understatement. Often an outlier area filled with passionate hard workers, they were now out of work, their kids are all home and they need to eat! Milo put the call out on what he was tasked with. TWO days later the entire Montura community stepped up together, no quarrels, to help its own! They filled 200 cars with both paid workers and a tremendous amount of volunteers,” Jennifer wrote in a Facebook post.

H.E. Hill Foundation financed the project, coordinating with local distributors, farmers, the Hendry County Sheriffs Office and county officials, to provide the vegetable distribution to those in need, for free. Volunteers gathered with Mr. James, including Tico Salgado, who provided a truck and large trailer to transport the produce, as well as his time — directing traffic and helping sort and distribute the food. The site was a drive-through trunk drop format, to keep everyone safe.

“The next day we had donated along with the county and many others to Serving with Love, who already does food donations so often and works hard throughout the year. They filled 275 more trunks with goods galore! I saw the happiest post I’ve ever seen ever from Montura because THEY made it happen! Montura filled 475 trunks working together!”

At the Montura site, they were able to supply nearly 500 families with fresh produce and some bread that was donated by Hendry County’s Aktion Club. Ms. Earnest realized there was a need in Pioneer as well, “…and the very next day, not even 24 hours later, you show up to volunteers already hard at work, your local sheriff’s office, volunteer fire department, ads on the local WAFC radio station and anyone from a community leader, the homeowners group, all the way to a group of high school kids working hard without a peep of a complaint. Even my very favorite Gladesman, the Infamous Willie Lee, trucked a load of food over last minute. Cars were already lined up an hour early. We filled and filled until the cars started to trickle but we had bit left over. (County Commissioner Karson) Turner calls Commissioner (Emma) Byrd and says, “We have leftovers, can we bring them to Harlem?” POOF: Caravan off to Harlem where we distributed what was left in no time! I only wish we’d had more.”

At the Pioneer site, and then in Harlem, they served nearly 400 more families. The number of trunks filled amounted to over 900.

“Our community is awesome … every person who volunteered or benefited went home (all different types of homes) happy and/or tired and some of us went home and ate a piece of famous Ms. Hammock pie! It doesn’t fix it all … always more to be done, but God bless our farmers .. and those who do the best they can to love thy neighbor. They do this every day in a farm community, in good times and bad. Their grandparents did it, their children will hopefully one day do it, too!” Ms. Earnest went on in her Facebook post.

H.E. Hill foundation also posted a message on its Facebook page thanking Milo James, Belle Glade Wholesale, Tammy Bunting, the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office, Commissioner Karson Turner, all the local farmers and individual volunteers for helping.

They plan to continue the giveaways, in Port LaBelle, the Moore Haven or Lakeport area, and again in Montura. They are still working on logistic,.s but all details will be announced on the H.E. Hill Foundation Facebook page. They’ve even inspired similar giveaways in Stuart.

Ms. Earnest is passionate about our community and is working hard to make sure everyone receives some support. If you are a small farm or small business that could use a big purchase during this time, please feel free to contact H.E. Hill Foundation Inc via their Facebook page, or email Jennifer Earnest at j.earnest@hehill.org.

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