HOLT, Dec. 6, 2016—Volunteers milled around, visiting, making phone calls, waiting.
Just after lunch, the delivery truck pulled onto the food pantry parking area.
The group of six volunteers sprang into action, making multiple trips from the truck to the pantry, carrying everything from an assortment of frozen meats, to fresh fruits and vegetables, dry goods, dairy items, breads and other assorted foods to fill shelves, freezers and refrigerators.
Operated by the First Baptist Church of Holt, the Holt Community Food Pantry, located at 521 Southside Dr., is open every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon.
To ensure there is enough food to go around, recipients can only come once a month. They are allowed to fill one paper grocery bag and one plastic shopping bag from pantry shelves each visit.
Available meat and dairy items are dependent on family size, said Maureen Smith, pantry volunteer.
“We’ll give a family of six 18 eggs rather than just a dozen,” she said.
The pantry serves about 90 families each month, but faces change from week to week.
“Every week we get new people,” said Donna Ash, food pantry director.
Keeping it running
“It takes a lot to keep this place running,” said Curt Rainey, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Holt. “Donna and her team does an incredible job.”
About six volunteers are on hand to help recipients when the pantry is open; however, “We have about 15 total volunteers who do different things at different times,” said Ash.
To keep the shelves stocked, the pantry receives a free delivery of food every other Friday from Destin Harvest, a non-profit food rescue operation serving Okaloosa and Walton counties. The only stipulation is that no one is turned away from the Holt pantry.
“If someone is humble enough to ask for food, we don’t turn them away,” said Ash.
Additionally, every Tuesday, food teams help restock pantry shelves by purchasing food from Feeding the Gulf Coast in Milton at $.19 a pound. When they get a large delivery of meat goods, like they did Dec. 2, their Tuesday purchases concentrate more on dry goods.
Ash has four purchase teams of two each to help keep the shelves stocked.
“We purchase 500-to-800 pounds of food each week at $.19 per pound,” she said.
Other monetary donations add to the pantry’s purchasing power. In November, Baker’s Mount Ewell Masonic Lodge No. 131 donated $300 that provided about 70 turkeys for Thanksgiving.
The weeks before Thanksgiving, the pantry “provided food to 102 families in three weeks,” said Rainey.
The Holt Community Food Pantry first opened its doors in 2004 in a house house just behind the church building. The pantry wasn’t air conditioned or heated except for a small window unit to help keep the perishable food from going bad too quickly.
The new pantry opened this spring in a refurbished 1,400-square-foot house originally built in 1942.
Members of the First Baptist Church of Holt redid the remodeling, taking out bedroom walls to open the floor plan to provide visibility throughout the house.
The pantry has two industrial freezers, a refrigerator and chilled display case, as well as stainless steel shelves for dry and canned goods, and wooden fruit and vegetable shelves. After the delivery Dec. 2, the shelves, freezers and refrigerator were beginning to fill up. Tuesday’s shopping day would complete the week’s stock in time for Wednesday’s opening.
Hunger in America
Feeding the Gulf Coast where pantry food teams purchase items to stock the shelves is a member of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic non-profit hunger-relief organization.
Feeding the Gulf Coast services 24 counties in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi with branches in Theodore, Ala., Gulfport, Miss., and Milton.
According to Feeding America, in 2015, 12.7 percent of all U.S. households were considered “food insecure,” a term used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to describe hunger. That equates to about 1 in 6—about 49 million—Americans who face hunger.
USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members because of a lack of money or other resources. Of the 12.7 percent of food-insecure households, 5 percent had very low food insecurity.
In Florida, the food insecurity—or hunger—rate in 2012 was 17 percent.
The Holt Community Food Pantry, like others in the area, works locally to help those in need find relief from hunger.
Anyone who wants to donate food or money to the Holt Community Food Pantry should contact the First Baptist Church of Holt at 850-537-6170.