What started in 1991 as an effort to help feed the hungry, unemployed, and homeless in the Dunbar neighborhood through food donations to two local soup kitchens, evolved over five years to truly fit its project name “Community Harvest”. Three days a week, every week, JLFM committee members picked up food goods from area restaurants and food suppliers and delivered them to agencies such as the Nations Association, Community Cooperative Ministries,The Rescue Mission, Hope House, and SWFL Addiction Center. By 1995, we were picking up donated food from 27 local restaurants! In its final year, our “harvest” of over 49 TONS (that’s 97,966 lbs.!!!) of food and beverages was shared with people of all ages and circumstances in our community—from needy children in day care programs to abandoned and abused children at Hope House, from migrant farm workers to the unemployed, from single mothers struggling to raise their children alone to grandmothers unexpectedly raising their grandchildren, from teenager to adults seeking help at Addiction services, from needy single persons to entire families depending on the soup kitchens to see them through difficult times, and from those suffering with HIV/AIDS to those coping with the illnesses of old age. All had one thing in common—they often wondered where their next meal was coming from.
In addition to members of the Community Harvest Committee picking up and delivering food weekly, the entire League became involved in the mission by supporting monthly food drives at our General Meetings and making donations to Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets complete with turkeys, hams, and all the trimmings, delivered to needy families.
“Sitting down to a healthy, delicious meal is an action most of us take for granted. Thanks to the largess of the Junior League, it is now a reality for many more.” Connie Peeler, Exec. Dir. of Community Cooperative Ministries soup kitchen, 1995
“Your regular deliveries of food have meant more nutritional, wholesome meals for youngsters who are receiving treatment here. Our chef has calculated your project has saved us at least $1,200 per month in food costs.” Kevin Lewis, Exec. Dir. SW FL Addiction Services
In 1994, we set up a food drive at our annual Taste of the Town fundraiser, where the general public, as part of their admission, could bring canned goods to donate to the community while enjoying the “tastes” of food from local area restaurants. Surplus foods from Taste of the Town vendors was also delivered to the area Soup Kitchen at the end of the day-long event. This food drive was continued by Taste of the Town for many years.
Another creative way that the League continued the tradition of feeding the hungry was by coordinating and hosting the first annual CANSTRUCTION in 1998. This project benefitted hungry people in our community while spotlighting the design and construction industry giving back to the communities it helped to build. Teams of students, architects, engineers, and contractors worked together to design and build enormous structures made entirely out of canned goods! These cans of food, up to 13,000 lbs annually, was donated to the Harry Chapin Food Banks. More about this project in a future article of Gulf Glances!
Article written by Sandra Raak & Kathleen Williamson, JLFM Past Presidents & Shamie Kelly, Sustainer