CLEARWATER - Jamia Austin, director of the Religious Community Services Food Bank, is hoping to raise enough funds to purchase a new 24-foot refrigerated truck with a lift gate. So far the facility which provides emergency food for families, women and children and seniors in the community has brought in about $35,000 through grants and donations. Cost of the truck, however, is close to $50,000, Austin advised earlier this week. She explained they are currently having to lease a refrigerated truck to deliver perishable foods to the 62 sites the Food Bank serves throughout the county. They previously leased a truck which fit their needs from the state for $1 a year, but in October, after six years, the state decided it wanted the truck back, explained Austin, who was assistant administrator at The Haven (RCS spouse abuse shelter) before taking over the duties of Food Bank director five years ago. She is hoping they will eventually have enough funds for a new vehicle; however, if someone has a used refrigerated truck they're not using, it would be gratefully accepted.
The Food Bank also needs additional monies for the renovations currently underway at its headquarters, 700 Druid Road West, where over 3,500 families are served each month. Due to limited funds, the work is being completed in stages, according to Austin, who is seeking volunteers to help with the construction, renovation of bathrooms and installation of new flooring.
Most of the Food Bank's clients are single working mothers with children under the age of 14 or senior citizens living on fixed incomes. "We're here to help people through critical times," Austin pointed out. "The clients that we serve could be your friends or neighbors without your knowing it." Emergency food is provided to clients twice a month. Government surplus food is available once a month. Some 185 tons of food valued at more than $1.5 million will be distributed this year. On a typical day, more than 90 households receive enough supplies for three to four meals based on the size of their families. "We also provide baby food and formula to about 15 parents a day," said Austin, who was appointed by Commissioner of Agriculture Charles H. Bronson to The Emergency Food Assistance Program Advisory Board for a term of four years in June of 2006. The board is charged with advising the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on how TEFAP resources should be allocated among various eligible outlet types and what areas have the greatest need for food assistance.
The RCS Food Bank works collaboratively with over 80 local church congregations and a number of community groups, businesses and others to fulfull its mission, which is "to serve and strengthen the needy as they return to self-sufficiency". Representatives of various churches donate their time to pick up and deliver to the Food Bank bread, pastry and other food items contributed by area merchants. About 25 volunteers help out at the distribution center each day. There are some 100 volunteers altogether. Ellen Jensen was among the volunteers busy filling "meal bags" with government surplus foods on a recent Friday morning. Each bag contained rice, powdered milk and cans of beef, corn, sliced potatoes and pears. Jensen and her late husband, Daniel, founded the Food Bank (previously called the Food Pantry) in 1982.
Austin, who was responsible for writing the grant which secured government surplus foods, says more volunteers are needed to help sort food, deliver and pick up supplies, answer phones and interview clients. Persons with data entry experience would also be of help in the office. In regard to food donations, the facility could use more canned meats, canned vegetables, peanut butter, jelly, rice, noodles, cereal, juices, diapers and grocery bags, both plastic and paper.
Call 443-4031 if you would like to help the RCS Food Bank in any way, whether it be through donation of your time, food or money. And, if you just happen to have a refrigerated truck that you could give them, well, that would make their day--no, that would make their year.
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