Food: The Catalyst for Connection and Support in Our Communities

Food: The Catalyst for Connection and Support in Our Communities

Over 270,000 individuals in our area face food insecurity, and almost a third of those impacted are children. As a community, we must do everything possible to ensure everyone has equal access to fresh, healthy food.

Often, our food-insecure neighbors would benefit from other resources as well. Feeding Northeast Florida works closely with many community partners to ensure visitors to our pantries are aware of additional services available to assist them with any additional challenges they may face.

Feeding Northeast Florida’s partnership with Full Service Schools (FSS) in Duval County is a powerful example of this connection. FSS’s overarching mission is to remove barriers to academic success by addressing non-academic challenges. Food plays a crucial role in this process, and we are grateful to lend our support.

Full Service Schools: Removing Barriers

The Full Service Schools initiative operates out of eight strategically located sites in Jacksonville, ensuring accessibility for every Duval County Public School student.

“We deal with everything that has nothing to do with school, but it affects schools,” explains StanVonna Gaulden, one of the program’s coordinators. This approach means addressing food insecurity alongside other needs such as mental health, vision care, and more.

When conversing with StanVonna, it is evident that she loves her community, is passionate about ensuring families’ needs are met, and she won’t slow down until they are.

Feeding Northeast Florida: A Vital Partnership

Feeding Northeast Florida supports FSS by ensuring kids can access food through community-supported initiatives and programs like SnackPacks, corner markets, and on-site pantries. By design, families who work with FSS to acquire food receive immediate relief and exposure to broader assistance.

The SnackPack program is a great example. It addresses an urgent food need, and then teachers and school staff can monitor reliance on the program to determine if a family needs more support. If so, a family might be referred to the pantry or corner market to ensure their overall needs are met.

Stories of Impact: Transformations Through Food Support

StanVonna shared a couple of examples.

In one case, a school therapist noticed food insecurity impacting a student’s well-being as their family was living in transitional housing. The therapist sprung into action. Leveraging the resources of the Full Service Schools initiative, the family received SnackPacks, pantry items, and even a Thanksgiving meal.

The Full Service Schools team also shared a story about a working father struggling to make ends meet while raising his high school-aged children. After seeing the pantry in his neighborhood a few times, he asked if he could receive groceries there.

He was welcomed and received much-needed assistance, then became an active volunteer at the pantry soon after. His experience demonstrates how food programs and compassionate community support can inspire recipients to give back.

Food as an Entry Point to Comprehensive Care

The FSS team is resourceful in how they assist children and families. Construction at their usual location created a need for a temporary setup. Rather than seeing this as a challenge, StanVonna recognized it as an opportunity to help new people. She encouraged all service providers to set up tents and tables alongside the food distribution. This created a comprehensive resources hub offering financial services, parenting support, and medical care.

“We still utilize food to get individuals to see that there are other things that we offer,” she shared. This strategy ensures that families, initially drawn by the immediate need for food, become aware of all the available resources.

Building a Resilient Community

Food serves as a powerful connector, linking individuals to a network of support services. The partnership between Feeding Northeast Florida and Full Service Schools exemplifies how addressing immediate needs can open doors to comprehensive care, ultimately fostering a stronger, more resilient community. As these stories illustrate, the impact of food programs extends far beyond alleviating hunger—they strengthen lives and build communities.

We could not partner with great organizations like Full Service Schools if not for the generous support of our community. Your donations enable us to ensure every child can focus on school work, not being hungry, and bring focus and energy to the classroom every day. Please click here to enable us to continue connecting children and their families to the resources they need.

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