Food pantry to launch new program for homeless students

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 16, 2013
  • Palm Coast Observer
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At the start of the summer, the Grace Community Food Pantry fed a record-breaking number of people: Just fewer than 3,000 families came to the shelter for food.

Often, the food pantry sees a spike in its numbers at the start of the summer, when children are no longer getting extra meals at school (generally, between 2,500 and 2,600 families visit the pantry each month).

However, at the same time in 2012, the pantry saw just fewer than 2,000 families, estimates the Rev. Charles Silano, the pantry’s director.

Fed by Grace

To combat the rising need in Flagler County, Grace Community Food Pantry is launching a new program with the coming of the new school year: Fed by Grace, a weekend program for homeless students.

The last time he checked with the Flagler County School District, there were 388 homeless students enrolled, Silano said.

Starting with the weekend of Sept. 20, the food pantry will supply three-day packages of food for homeless children and their families to eat over the weekend. The summertime spike in food pantry trips shows the importance of the food that homeless students receive, Silano said, and this new program will extend that service over weekends.

Grace Community Food Pantry will supply about 400 bags, each filled with seven to 10 pounds of food, to the schools, who will individually handle their distribution because of privacy issues.

Donations needed

This added service, of course, adds to the pantry’s already ever-increasing need for food donations.

“We’re getting it done, but we need the community’s support and the contributions so that we can continue the program,” Silano said.

As for the food pantry itself, Silano said he believes it is serving a community need, but that he only sees that need increasing as the costs of food and other living expenses rise. Though unemployment in the county, and in the nation as a whole, has decreased overall over the last year, many people in Flagler County can only find part-time employment, which is insufficient to meet their needs, Silano said.

When the food pantry distributes food each weekend, lines in cars form hour-long waits, often under a hot Florida sun. That’s how Silano knows he’s serving a great need: People who do not need to utilize the pantry wouldn’t, he said.

'It's a culture shock'

Providing food to families helps meet not only physical, but also emotional needs, Silano said. Many of those in need in Flagler have not always lived that way, but they endured hardships with the recession.

“It’s a culture shock,” Silano said. “You think, ‘I used to be able to do this; I can’t do it anymore.’ People are distraught.”

But bringing home food, and preserving family dinners, especially in the upcoming holiday season, is important.

“It helps them remember that they used to have these traditions, and that they’re still a part of the community,” Silano said.

Grace Community Food Pantry is in need of donations and volunteers. For more information, call 586-2653 or bring donations to 5400 E. State Road 100, in Palm Coast. The pantry accepts donations during the weeks, and distributes food 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. on Sundays.


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