New van helps food bank better meet needs of the hungry


Tom Castillo, an employee at Pine Grove Apartments, picks up a delivery of food in Gainesville, Fla. on Thursday, January 17, 2013. The Bread of the Mighty Food Bank received the new refrigerated van purchased with funds from a matching grant award by The Hussman Foundation through Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger relief charity in the nation.

ASHLEY CRANE/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 6:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 6:24 p.m.

About one in five adults and one in four children in Alachua County can be described as "food insecure," according to 2010 statistics — meaning they aren't necessarily homeless but have no means to ensure food will be on the table.

With the effects of the recession still being felt in the region, Debie Talbot, development coordinator of the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank in Gainesville, said her organization has had to increase its efforts to feed the hungry.

"That was three years ago," she said of the statistics. "And things have gotten much worse."

In response, the food bank has created a mobile pantry service to provide hungry residents with one or two loaves of bread as well as many other perishable and nonperishable food items, Talbot said.

Late last year, the organization received a $42,000 refrigerated van to handle these additional "food drops," Talbot said. Projected to distribute the pantry's contents at least five times a week, the two-pallet van is an asset because of the increasing need for smaller food pickups and deliveries, she said.

Even though the food bank needed a downsized vehicle, the number of people responding to the food drops continues to increase, Talbot said. In some communities, as many as 400 individuals will stand in line for two weeks' worth of food, Talbot said, noting that some will arrive three hours early fearing the truck will run out of food, which has not happened.

Loretta Griffis, food drive coordinator of the food bank, often helps pass out food at her local "food drop" in Williston.

"Every time I'll ask, ‘How many of you are new?'?" she said. "We always get quite a big showing of hands."

Following the recession, those who had lost their jobs in many cases haven't been able to find new ones, Talbot said, so they have had to deplete their savings just to survive.

This past fiscal year, the organization collected 4.8 million pounds of food. This year, the food bank is projected to gather about 6 million pounds of food. Half of the food comes from donors, while the other half is bought from wholesalers and retailers in the area.

Before they got their new van, the food bank had to choose either an 18-foot, 24-foot or 26-foot truck to be its mobile pantry, Talbot said. However, these large trucks were not ideal because of their huge sizes and the high cost of fuel, which for a refrigerated truck can run $100 a day. The food bank was in need of a vehicle that could hold a few thousand pounds of food rather than tens of thousands of pounds of food.

The new van, nicknamed "Little Bit" for its small size, was the perfect solution, and its acquisition is significant because it doesn't require a commercial driver's license to operate it.

"Little Bit" was purchased with money from The Hussman Foundation's matching grant, which met the amount donated cumulatively by Sweetbay Supports, Plum Creek Foundation, Goody Two Shoes Foundation, Community Bank and Trust of Florida, and many individual supporters.

"At this point, I don't think we need any more trucks," Talbot said. "We're pretty satiated."

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