LAKELAND, FL. – Blessings and Hope Food Pantry started 12 years ago in the shed of a small church in Highland City, Florida. Once serving a few people a month, the organization currently serves 500 families in the Lakeland area every week.
Rain or shine, the dedicated group of volunteers is here at 2150 E. Edgewood Dr. in Lakeland, Florida every Tuesday and the third Saturday of the month to distribute food to those in need. “Last week we had freezing rain and they still came out. We have a core of really dedicated people, “Pastor Alan Fratto said. “It’s about 2000 people that we’re feeding every week, up to 500 families.”
Supply chain issues have dramatically affected the number of food Blessings and Hope Food Pantry receives every day. “When the supply starts drying up at the stores, we see that we get less, the stores get less, and there are fewer donations. So we have to figure out how to make this stretch. People come here and say, ‘The shelves are empty; we can’t find food.” Can you help us? Please help us. ’ And that’s what we’re doing. “ said, Alan
Liz Forshee, a volunteer serving for almost three years. She said, “It’s a numbers game to make sure that everyone gets something.”
According to United Way of Central Florida, 15 percent of Polk County’s population, 95,800 people, are unsure if they will be able to feed their families three meals a day, and 32,470 children don’t know if food will be available when they are hungry,
The Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) recommended that the USDA make a clear distinction between food insecurity and hunger.
- Food Insecurity- the condition assessed in the food security survey and represented in USDA food security reports—is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food
- Hanger is an individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity. According to the USDA.
All households without children that were classified as having very low food security reported at least six of the conditions in the chart above, and 66% reported seven or more of these conditions. According to the USDA, food-insecure households with children follow a similar pattern.
According to a 2019 study done by Feeding America, there are 88,770 food-insecure people in Polk County.
To Alan and the volunteers at the Blessings and Hope food pantry, these are not just numbers, but real people they see every single week. They are the reason the volunteers show up. “Nobody gets paid, these people are here because they love helping and doing,” said Alan.
The Food of Blessing and Hope Pantry receives salvaged food, which is food that would otherwise go to waste if not donated by farmers, stores, and other donors. This food could have expiration dates that are too close for grocery stores or have rips, dents, or discoloration on the packaging.
If there is food leftover after distribution days, it will not be thrown out. “Nothing is thrown in the dump. Bad food is given to farmers. Pig, horse, and cow. Nothing goes to waste here, “Pastor Alan said.
The work that it takes to receive, sort, package, and distribute the food is not easy. “Some people come, and they come once or twice, and they go, ‘Woah, this is hard,’ and they don’t come back. A core of about 10 or 12 people is here every week… People don’t understand the amount of work it takes to get the food to people, “Alan said.
“It’s a lot of work, sometimes it’s 10 hours a day, 14 hours a day, 15 hours a day. “Sometimes I’m here at 6:30 or 7 in the morning and I don’t get home until 9 p.m.,” Alan said. “But I do it with joy, in a way that I feel like I’m in God’s will. That’s the most important thing to me.”
Food insecurity and hunger are not something that Blessings and Hope Food Pantry can solve alone. “My prayer is that one) he sends volunteers, two) he sends money, and three) he sends food. Those are the three biggest things we pray for”, Alan said.
The food pantry is a source of blessing and hope and is always accepting volunteers, donations of food, and money.