Making Thanksgiving Great for Struggling Families
By Lori Leath Smith
For Jane Harrison, feeding six children is not easy. And with trying to rebuild life after Hurricane Michael, it’s even harder. Jane and her children evacuated before Michael hit their home in Panama City last year. But they still feel the storm’s effects. “One of my kids has special needs, so I stay home to take care of him. Money is normally tight; it’s even harder now after Hurricane Michael. Without help, my kids wouldn’t have enough to eat,” says Jane.
Meet Brittany and Clint who both have jobs – he has a college degree and works at a local bank while she has a job at a movie theater. But the family’s income is still at the poverty level. Sometimes, they even go without utilities to help pay for food and other bills. They need help making ends meet, especially around the holidays.
No one expects their lives to be hit—whether it’s by 155 mph winds or—just life.
This Thanksgiving, you’ll likely set your table to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey and heaping sides of stuffing. But for the thousands in our area who struggle with hunger, celebrating the holidays can be tough.
Currently, there are approximately 399 sheltered and unsheltered homeless throughout Okaloosa and Walton counties, says Homelessness and Housing Alliance. According to Feeding America, there are 8,720 food insecure children in Okaloosa County alone. Of this group, family incomes are at or below 185% of poverty level. Hunger in Okaloosa and Walton County is a very real issue for children, families, active duty military, and retired veterans struggling each day just to satisfy their basic needs.
One way we can all help this Thanksgiving is through the Annual Crop Drop! On the appointed day each November, Crop Drop Destin UMC and Thrivent Financial, Emerald Coast Group, along with the help of the Destin and surrounding communities gather to help local, struggling families have a good Thanksgiving meal.
Hundreds of brown paper bags and boxes filled with unsold produce line the parking lot of Destin United Methodist Church on this day. Even children with their parents help to package goods. The sight is so beautiful, if you’ve lost faith in humanity, this event will cause you to reconsider. Smiling and happy faces of people with generous hearts are rampant. By the end of the day, volunteers will have packed and prayed over 80,000 pounds of produce—potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, corn and everything in between—to help feed 6,000 local families for Thanksgiving, including Veteran support groups, elderly care services and shelters. Prayer helps to meet spiritual needs as well.
Family-size bags are then loaded into agency vehicles to be transported to food pantries, homeless shelters, and church dispensaries across the Panhandle. More than 50 agencies throughout Walton, Okaloosa, and Santa Rosa counties collect and distribute the bagged produce from Crop Drop that feeds an estimated 24,000 individuals each year.
Thrivent Financial started the Crop Drop in 2009 and has hosted it every year. For more than a decade, young and old, families, students, churches, non-profit organizations, bystanders, clubs and other groups have come together to work like a well-oiled machine to lift, sort, pack, move, load, haul and drive the produce.
Crop Drop coordinates with farmers in Florida and Mississippi that glean their fields of the produce that isn’t sold to the market place and then a freight company delivers it to Destin.
The Crop Drop will be held Saturday, Nov. 23 from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Destin United Methodist Church, 200 Beach Drive, Destin. To register, visit www.cropdrop.org, their Facebook page Crop Drop Destin or call 850-586-0585.