As lawmakers finalize the 2023-24 state budget, Feeding Florida Executive Director Robin Safley spoke to Florida Politics about the mission of the organization and what it is able to accomplish with state support.
Q: What connection is there between Florida agriculture and food banks?
Safley: Florida is blessed with a diversity of agriculture produce. Our farmers grow over 300 commodities that your mother would love you to eat. These producers are the backbone of our food system, working tirelessly to produce fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat. The Feeding Florida network works with our farmers so that the donation of extra products is not an afterthought. This means that we get products that are fresh and have plenty of shelf life remaining before being consumed. These are the very foods that the clients we serve need due to the high incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. We coordinate the pick-up of the product from the grower and then work with our partner agencies to distribute it into communities throughout Florida.
This also has the extra benefit of reducing food waste while ensuring that Floridians in need have access to fresh and healthy food. This approach helps those who are hungry and builds a more sustainable food system that benefits Floridians in the long term.
Q: What is the primary purpose of Florida’s food bank system?
Safley: Our statewide network unites nine member food banks to provide a healthy, adequate, and consistent food supply to every community, every day. Although Floridians have other nutrition tools funded by the federal government, many of them do not qualify due to their income. Many Floridians make too much for safety net programs but still struggle to make ends meet with the cost of housing, transportation, childcare and health care. Our food banks help meet some of their needs by ensuring access to fresh, nutritious food.
For us, the best return on investment is not just about feeding people today. It’s ensuring that they have the resources, through either our programming or our partners in the community, to independently support themselves and their families. We know that hunger is a symptom of an under-resourced home. When you support the Feeding Florida network, you are investing in the future of families, veterans, children, faith-based charities, and our agricultural community.
Q: Why should the Florida Legislature want to invest in the Feeding Florida network?
Safley: There are several reasons why supporting Feeding Florida’s network of nine independent food banks is a solid investment. First, the money provided by the Legislature for our healthy food initiative goes directly to our growers to help cover their fixed cost of harvesting and packing the product.
Second, our food banks represent more than just a food distribution system; we are committed to providing our clients with other resources they may need to stabilize and thrive. Hunger is a symptom of an under-resourced home. If those underlying issues are not addressed, these families will need food assistance perpetually. Many of our food banks have job training programs in culinary arts, warehouse management, and CDL licensing. These programs also offer soft skills and financial literacy education.
Third, the resources provided by the Legislature go further because we bring the support of our partners, funders, and research to the table. The legislative investment amplifies our work, and any money invested into the network is strategically re-invested into our state making it an investment in stabilizing households, helping children learn, job training, and much more.
By investing in our network, state leaders help us distribute locally grown produce to our neighbors and support the good work of our partners, including health care providers, local community agencies, and other impactful organizations. An investment in the Feeding Florida network is an investment in the future sustainability of Florida’s communities.
Emailed and published April 27, 2023 by Florida Politics, Sixty Days Email Blast