Story

Food for Thought Focused on Feeding Families

January 8, 2013 by Marla Burns

 

Tiffanie Shelton's journey of faith brought her to a point in life where she had to act. She knew there were families who needed help in our community and her faith fueled her desire to take action.

One day as she sat down with her pastor a thought occurred to her, “what if we just helped a couple of families as a church?” She thought she could do it out of her house, store food and maybe help five or six kids.

Food for Thought began at that moment and has grown steadily since. Within a year Tiffanie and volunteers achieved non-profit status, and three years later help more than 150 families every week. The group serves three schools - Butler Elementary, Bay Elementary and Emerald Coast Middle School.

The mission of the organization is to provide food for children who suffer from what the USDA officially refers to as “food insecurity”, which means they regularly go hungry because their families do not have enough money to buy food. The public schools receive government assistance to help such kids by providing breakfast and lunch during school days. But when school is out on the weekends, during holiday breaks or during the summer, these children must fend for themselves.

Some folks might feel ashamed to ask for help, so aid from Food for Thought is entirely anonymous. The schools share with the organization the number of kids that are on free meal or reduced meal programs.

The organization provides the school with letters that are sent out to the families asking about their needs, telling about services offered and offering help. If accepted, children receive a backpack filled with food every Friday to bridge the gap over the weekend.

The food is geared toward the child so everything is easy to open, easy to prepare, healthy and fresh. For example, they might receive a fresh loaf of bread, fresh fruit and veggies, peanut butter and jelly, soup and healthy snacks like granola bars. During the holidays, with the help of the community and private donors, turkeys and hams were available for families so they could enjoy their holiday without worrying about not having enough food.

At present, Food for Thought is assisting children ages five to seven. Services are geared to empower children to help themselves, which is really important as children at such a young age can’t control their circumstances. Not knowing where your next meal is coming from is a difficult for anyone, but for young children food insecurity is especially hard, and that insecurity takes away from their ability to learn and develop properly. Food for Thought aims to lessen insecurity so kids can do better in school.

In the future it is hoped that the program can be expanded to middle school and high school, offering not just food but giving them skills to break the cycle of poverty. Food for Thought wants to teach kids how to cook and sustain their own nutrition and provide tutoring programs where the kids not only receive the right nutrition, but also receive the right education so they can eventually find employment and become productive citizens on their own.

The organization wants to provide a model to give to other communities beyond our area. The group has teamed up with other local organizations like Children’s Volunteer Health Network and Boys & Girls Club to work together and serve the same kids.

If you’d like to help, Food for Thought needs both food donations that are easy to prepare and are acceptable for a backpack (no glass allowed on the school bus) and monetary donations. Monetarily it takes $2.00 a week to feed a child. The organization now has an online donation program where you can sponsor a child for a month or a year; you can give with one solid donation, or a monthly donation on the website or Facebook page.

You can always donate your time by volunteering to pack food in backpacks on a weekly basis, deliver backpacks to schools, organizing the pantry, shopping for the pantry, picking up donations, helping out at community events, or even offering your professional services, i.e., accounting help, technical problem solving, helping structure the organization, etc. Food for Thought accepts all kinds of help.

Tiffanie wants the community to know she is grateful for support and volunteers. “It touches me that the community recognizes we have a need. Like when we have an event and we break records for money raised. It enables us to give more. I think we’ll double our numbers next year of the number of kids we’re helping. That’s my full expectation.”

She appreciates that Food for Thought not only helps children and their families, but also provides volunteers with an opportunity to give back to the community and teach their children the values of helping others.

Did you know?
-Florida ranks 6th in the country for children who are suffering from food insecurity.
-Food insecurity affects 1 in every 10 children in the U.S. 

Food For Thought Holiday Volunteers

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Marla Burns

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