Hunger and food insecurity was already a big problem in Tampa Bay, before being compounded by the loss of jobs due to COVID-19.
While many organizations, including Metropolitan Ministries, are feeding people all over the area, it’s rare to be able to provide fresh produce, according to Tim Marks, president and CEO of Metropolitan Ministries.
So Marks considers it a blessing that the American Culinary Federation of Tampa Bay chose Metropolitan Ministries to be the recipient of the Simply Fresh Farmers to Families program, which has been bringing them 1,140 boxes of fresh produce every week.
The boxes contain fruits and vegetables, salad kits, toppings and dressings.
“This is another example of a tremendous partnership,” Marks said. He said the value of the produce lies not only in its health benefits, but receiving nice food like that creates dignity.
The program comes from Five Star Gourmet, the Naples-based company that makes Simply Fresh produce. They got a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to implement the Farmers to Families program, allowing them to deliver produce that would normally be purchased by restaurants to families in need.
Five Star Gourmet reached out to the ACF, a nonprofit organization, for help distributing the produce. The Tampa Bay chapter and several other Florida chapters participated.
Chef Rene Marquis, president of ACF Tampa Bay, said he chose Metropolitan Ministries because the organization is close to his heart and he’s volunteered there.
Marquis said at first he had no idea just how much produce they would be getting; he originally only signed up to take the food for one week. But when an 18-wheeler pulled up during the first delivery from Five Star Gourmet, he started to see the bigger picture.
Since then, Marquis and other volunteers from ACF Tampa Bay have been bringing the semi-truck full of 30 palettes of produce boxes every Thursday for the past eight weeks.
“For us as chefs, it’s an important cause,” Marquis said. “We’re just trying to do the work.”
He said they have delivered more produce than any other ACF chapter. Thursday’s delivery was supposed be their final one, but Five Star Gourmet added a bonus delivery that will happen next week. He estimates they have donated 11,520 meals to families around Tampa Bay.
Marks said the families who have been receiving the boxes are grateful for the produce.
To help, donate or receive services from Metropolitan Ministries, visit metromin.org.