This summer, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic moved its food bank operations to a 14,000-square-foot facility. That move is helping the clinic meet the increased need within the community, executive director Beth Houghton said.
“It was important to move into a bigger space and a space that worked better for us,” Houghton added.
The clinic expects to give out 4 million pounds of food this year, up from 1.6 million pounds in 2010, she said. That helps more than 60,000 people every month in Pinellas County.
This increase comes as experts say big companies are seeing healthy profits and employers are adding jobs. Last week, the Dow Jones industrial average hit a record high.
But local nonprofit employees say the most vulnerable residents aren’t seeing the benefits. Thousands are still unemployed, and wages haven't budged. Combined with an ever-increasing cost of living, people are having to make tough choices. These people often need emergency groceries.
“Somebody’s doing better, but it’s not the people that we’re serving,” Houghton said.
“What we’re seeing is an uneven recovery, and so those who are working at minimum wage or slightly above jobs are finding housing more expensive than it was, certainly electricity and other utilities are the same. Transportation is difficult, and so they’re really struggling more,” she added.
Feeding America says one in every seven Florida residents struggles with hunger. That’s one in every four children.
The Free Clinic’s new, larger facility allows staff and volunteers to provide more food for those who need it. In addition, there is more on-site refrigeration to store and provide healthy food for residents.
“When you’re struggling financially, often the cheapest way to fill everyone’s belly is with processed carbohydrates,” Houghton said. “We want to see more, particularly fruits and vegetables … That often is just not within people’s budgets.”
Fresh fruits and vegetables account for 38 percent of the Free Clinic’s food. Houghton wants to see that number increase.
The new warehouse is a hub for 65 partner organizations that can pick up food, water and other necessities and deliver them to those in need.
Joanne Betancourt works with the Pasadena Presbyterian Church. She brings food from the clinic’s new location to her organization, which gives groceries directly to people.
“The (new) location is fantastic. The amount of food that we’re getting and the quality of food is excellent,” Betancourt said.
In the last year, her organization has started serving an additional 80-100 families per month, she said.
“They need to have something to supplement what they already have. Some of them don’t have that much,” Betancourt added.
Much of the Free Clinic’s food comes from grocery stores. The organization receives day-old bread, “ugly produce” that might not meet retail standards but is still good, and other items that stores won’t sell anymore.
The warehouse was purchased with financial help from businesswoman Bonnie Hechtkopf. The Free Clinic also opened a new health center this summer. People who are uninsured and cannot afford health care can access free medical services through the clinic. The organization also runs three homeless residences.
Before this summer, the clinic ran its food bank, health clinic and other programs out of first-floor offices on Third Avenue N.
If you’re looking to help, the not-for-profit is seeking non-perishable items, including pasta and rice. In addition, the organization needs hygiene products. If you can donate body soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner, bring it to 863 3rd Ave. N in St. Petersburg. You can also shop using this Amazon Wishlist.
“The community really makes up that very big gap,” Houghton said.
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