Monday, December 09, 2013

Feeding hungry children at Christmastime

Moving pallet of food into pantry.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — I was touring The Ark recently, talking to director Bobbie Brigman and her husband Ric about activities and programs for seniors and winter visitors, when I met a young man named Jason.

He was volunteering in a food bank housed beside the worship sanctuary on the Ark’s campus; Jason’s family was staying in emergency housing on the campus until they could get back on their feet, and he was stocking the Food4Kidz pantry with items delivered that morning.

At another point during our interview, Ric’s phone rang and a hesitant female voice on the line asked if this was the place where she could get food for her family. His answer was, “Yes.”

“People are treated with respect and dignity here,” said Ric, a member of the Ark’s board, worship leader at the on-site church, and director of Food4Kidz, the pantry program housed at the Ark. “They call, make appointments to pick up food. There’s never a line here. Some of them I’ll see once, some I see every couple of months.”

The general policy is to feed a family once a month, but exceptions have been made in extreme circumstances, he said. For more information, call 249-KIDZ (5439), or visit Food4Kidz.org or Facebook.com/Food4Kidz online.

Food4Kidz is a local non-profit associated with the Feeding America program, receives supplies from the Bay Area Food Bank, and has been supported in its efforts by a grant from the St. Joe Community Foundation that purchased a van for the organization via Bill Cramer Chevrolet. Each month, Food4Kidz moves four or five tons of food — frozen, dry goods, canned items, pastries and more — and they feed hundreds of families.

“Some families are still trying to get on their feet after being decimated by the BP oil spill,” Ric said. “The family business is gone, their life savings is gone.”

The demand for help has doubled since last year, Bobbie said, and Ric added that the causes for that are difficult to pin down: Unemployment because of the end of tourist season jobs, general longterm under-employment, grandparents raising grandkids, or just because awareness of the program has grown.

On the two days prior to my visit, the pantry had served 11 families per day. In the worship center, I read notes left by parents and children who had picked up food there.

“Yesterday I had to decide between antibiotics that cost $80 or groceries,” wrote Paula, the mother of a 10-year-old son with health problems. “Of course I chose my son’s antibiotics. I wasn’t sure what I would do for food. I guess the lesson is to have faith.”

Ric stood at my shoulder, reading the note as I did. “That’s when we feel like we’re doing what we’re called to do,” he said.

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