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Area food giveaways ensure a happy Thanksgiving for many

As Thanksgiving approaches, there was holiday cheer Tuesday for some people who haven't had much to smile about lately.

In Safety Harbor, a Farm Share giveaway provided 42,000 pounds of fresh corn, green beans and Minute Maid orange juice to people who need it most.

At the Mallory-Powell Social Service Campus of the Salvation Army in Clearwater, volunteers doled out 3,200 frozen turkeys along with bags of canned goods in a two-day distribution that started Monday.

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As people made their way through the food line outside the Safety Harbor Neighborhood Family Center on Tuesday, Janet Hooper called out the rules.

"You can take up to eight bottles of juice per person," said Hooper, the center's executive director. "Take as much food as you want, just don't take the whole crate."

At 56, Pamela Goetting said she never dreamed she'd be struggling like she is today.

"It's this economy," the Safety Harbor resident said. "I've owned several businesses and now I'm unemployed and trying to take care of myself.

"It'll be just me and my cat celebrating Thanksgiving. And this food is it; I may get a chicken."

The Farm Share giveaway was organized by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, with Safety Harbor and Lealman as distribution points. Lealman's event took place later in the day.

Farm Share, a nonprofit organization, links farmers with surplus produce to social service agencies in Florida and the Southeast.

"(The Farm Share giveaway at Thanksgiving) is a tradition I started when I was in the Senate from 1994 to 2002," Latvala said. "The farmers take the excess produce they don't have a market for and put it into the Farm Share program so people can get use out of it."

Kim Lashington of Safety Harbor said she so appreciated the fresh vegetables.

"Many places give away canned food but you can always use fresh for Thanksgiving," she said.

Patricia Robbins, who founded the Homestead-based Farm Share program in 1991, said those living on the edge of poverty often buy canned because of the cost.

"Canned goods are full of salt and sugar and not good for those with high blood pressure and diabetes," she said.

Before the inception of Farm Share, Robbins said only about 50 percent of crops in the state were consumed.

"Most of the rest was plowed under, never harvested," she said. "In 2009, we rescued over 7 million pounds of fresh produce."

The organization is funded by private donations and money from the state, which has been drastically cut, she said.

"Our state funding has gone from $500,000 to $200,000 in the last two years," she said. "The need is greater and the money is less."

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Much of the cost for the food in the Salvation Army distribution was absorbed by an anonymous donor, said Kip Corriveau, director of social services for the Clearwater organization.

He said requests for food assistance in general have doubled this year.

"I've noticed more elderly," he said.

Grover Stready, 72, said he just lost the house in Clearwater he's been living in for the past 19 years.

"You try and hold on to what you've got and it gets harder and harder each year," he said. "If it weren't for a program like this, I don't know what I'd do. It's a big help."

Ann McAffee, 30, of Largo agreed. She said the turkey and trimmings would help feed her family of 10.

"If it weren't for this program," she said, "a lot of us wouldn't have a nice Thanksgiving at all."

Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

>>Fast facts

Number who are 'food insecure' sets record

In 2009, 14.7 percent, or 17.4 million American households, were "food insecure," the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. It's a gentle way to say these households don't always have the means to put adequate, quality food on the table. This is the highest recorded prevalence rate since 1995, when the first national survey was conducted.

About one-third of these households are severely affected, or experiencing "very low food security." That's when some, usually adult, family members may go hungry because of poverty.

At 14.2 percent, Florida was near the national average on overall food insecurity, but was above the national average for very low food insecurity during 2007 to 2009 (state statistics are averaged over three years). The national average for very low food security was 5.2 percent over the three-year period, while 6.1 percent of Floridians were affected.

Source: www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/FoodSecurity

Area food giveaways ensure a happy Thanksgiving for many 11/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 8:05pm]

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