Season to give

Assistance organizations anticipate a busy season helping those in need

Hugh "Shorty" Myles sorts meat at the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank in northwest Gainesville. The bank receives donations from area restaurants and stores for churches and social programs to distribute.

ELIZABETH HAMILTON/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 2:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 2:10 p.m.

Frances Leslie calls it "food insecurity." And without help from the community, food banks such as Gainesville Harvest and Bread of the Mighty are acting as Band-Aids to the ever-growing hunger of the homeless, the poor and the working poor.


How you can help

County organizations are readying for an onslaught of requests for assistance.
Bread of the Mighty
Food bank serving North Central Florida
Cash and food donations
Drop off 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday
325 NW 10th Ave., Gainesville
352-336-0839 or

Gainesville Harvest
Food bank serving ■■Alachua County
Cash and food dona■■tions
Drop off 9 a.m.■■
4550 SW 41st Blvd., ■■Suite 1, Gainesville
352-378-3663 or

Gainesville Community Ministry Office
Cash and non-perishable food donations
Drop off 9 a.m.-2:45 p.m. Monday-Thursday
238 SW 4th Ave., Gainesville
352372-8162 or

Gainesville Community Ministry Thrift Shop
Clothing, household items, furniture
Drop off 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday
5001 NW 34th St., Gainesville
352-378-3654 or
The Salvation Army of Gainesville
Cash donations, non-perishable food
Drop off 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Thursday, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Friday
639 E. University Ave., Gainesville
352-376-1743 or

St. Francis House
Cash donations, food, clothing, toiletries and miscellaneous items
Drop off 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday
413 S. Main St., Gainesville
352-378-9079 or

Trinity United Methodist Church
Collecting non-perishable food items, frozen turkeys, Publix gift cards and cash donations for Thanksgiving baskets
Drop off 10 a.m.-4 p.m. through Thursday
4000 NW 53rd Ave., Gainesville
352-376-6615 or

Southwest Advocacy Group Family Resource Center (SWAG)
Resource center offering support for families in need
New, unwrapped toys, non-perishable food for Thanksgiving baskets
Drop off 9 a.m-6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
807 SW 64th Terrace, Gainesville
352-505-6823 or

Alachua County Toys for Tots
New, unwrapped toys
Contact: The United Way of North Central Florida, SWAG, The Salvation Army of Gainesville

United Way of North Central Florida
6031 NW 1st Place, Gainesville
352-331-2800 or call or text 2-1-1 for assistance (

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida
Unwrapped toys for children ages 6-18, gift cards
1155 NW 13th St., Gainesville
352-375-2525 or

Catholic Charities
Toys, books, games, seasonal clothing for children
1701 NE 9th St., Gainesville
352-372-0294 or

Boys & Girls Club at Eastwood Meadows
Toys, educational materials and sports equipment for children ages 5-18
925 SE 43rd St., Gainesville
Contact Natalya Bannister at 352-377-8003

Boys & Girls Club at Woodland Park
About 200 toys, educational materials and sports equipment for children ages 5-18
1900 SE 4th St., Gainesville
Contact Natalya Bannister at 352-377-8003

Boys & Girls Club
About 500 toys, educational materials and sports equipment for children ages 5-18
2700 NW 51st St., Gainesville
Contact Neal Gillespie at 352-372-5342

Healthy Families Alachua
50 unwrapped toys and 50 holiday board books for children ages 0-5
Contact Cathy Winfrey at 352-294-5523
Peaceful Paths
Non-violent toys for children of all ages, recreational equipment, small electronics, tote bags and purses, cologne and perfume sets, makeup and costume jewelry sets, arts and crafts sets, gift-wrap supplies, grocery, retail and gas station gift cards
2100 NW 53rd Ave., Gainesville
Contact Loria Anglon at 352-377-5690

Rotary Boys & Girls Club Mentor Center
About 250 toys, educational materials and sports equipment for children ages 5-18
1100 SE 17th Drive, Gainesville
Contact Liz Martin at 352-244-5044

During the holiday season, the need for donated food and services increases substantially.

Leslie, executive director of Gainesville Harvest, said the food bank collects about 800,000 pounds of food annually to distribute to other agencies.

"We do receive more donations (during the holidays), but we need a lot more," she said. "We want to make sure that there is enough food so that families can think about jobs and other things. Things pile up. People just need help."

Food banks supply agencies and organizations with a stocked pantry; those agencies then distribute that food to the hungry. Some agencies that were self-sufficient earlier this year no longer are, Leslie said.

"Our summer was brutal in terms of people looking for food and needing food," she said. "This year, a lot of places are just feeding children."

Over the last seven years, the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch in Alachua County's public schools has increased by about 7 percent to 10,400 students.

"Well over 1,000 (students) are on reduced lunch," said Maria Eunice, director of Food and Nutrition Services for Alachua County Public Schools.

The Salvation Army of Gainesville served more than 33,000 hot meals last year, and has recently seen a slight increase, said Pamela Rivera, community development director.

"We have seen an increase in the past couple of months," she said. Groceries and hot meals represent the largest need that the organization fills.

In addition to serving hot meals, The Salvation Army also runs a holiday program. Through its Little Angels program, gifts are collected and distributed to children 12 and younger.

More than 750 children received gifts in 2011, the program's first year in Gainesville. The Salvation Army of Gainesville works with Toys for Tots, the United Way of North Central Florida and the Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG).

"Everything we do is important, but this is definitely one of the more feel-good things," Rivera said. "We get to bring Christmas to the kids."

Toys for Tots, a U.S. Marine Corps program that collects, purchases and distributes new and unwrapped gifts to less fortunate children during the holidays, reached about 4,000 children in 2011. Regional coordinator Eric Kidwell said that number has increased over the past few years due to the number of agencies that Toys for Tots now works with.

"When the holidays roll around, everyone wants to give their children at least one toy," said Debbie Mason, president and CEO of the United Way of North Central Florida. "We partner with them to make sure that toys are distributed appropriately."

Low-income families are really hurting for the basics, Mason said. "Food is a serious concern. When people read the paper or watch on TV that the economy goes up just a bit, it's easy to forget. If you can't afford a toothbrush, how are you going to get a toy?"

The Gainesville Community Ministry prepares food boxes for its clients during the holidays.

"We assist 600 to 800 families a month, year-round," said Michael Wright, the group's executive director.

Families can choose to receive a box of food for either Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The agency also runs a full set of clinics, provides clothing assistance, disaster relief and referrals to other agencies, and works with the Gainesville Police Department. Gainesville Community Ministry assists about 22,000 people a year — 8,000 of which are children.

"The majority of those people are poverty-stricken and working, but not making enough," Wright said.

At St. Francis House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Gainesville, most clients are unemployed, single men and women. On any given day, the kitchen will serve anywhere from 150 to 200 free lunches, said Andrew White, a caseworker at St. Francis House.

"We're projecting an increase in the number of meals served on Thanksgiving and Christmas — (to) close to 500 meals," White said.

The shelter also will run a toy store, where families can let their children pick out gifts.

Ann Voyles, director emeritus of Bread of the Mighty, a Gainesville food bank, emphasizes the working poor — those who work but aren't making enough money to put food on the table.

"A lot of people think of the homeless only. That's not even the tip of the iceberg," Voyles said.

In 2011, Bread of the Mighty collected and distributed 4.8 million pounds of food. This year, she said, the food bank is hoping to collect 5 million pounds.

"Every year is just more folks," she said. "But part of that increase is that we're better at finding them."

Katherine Kallergis is a Gainesville Sun correspondent.

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