The face of hunger in your own backyard – Part II: Feeding America Tampa Bay visit

The other day I wrote a post that shared with you the realities of hunger and how easily it is for circumstances to change and families suddenly have to struggle to put food on the table. If you would like to read that post you can find it here, http://bit.ly/R5xVGA (I shortened the link).

A couple of months ago I flew down to Tampa, Florida for the day (pretty much exactly 24 hours). While I was down there I had a wonderful and fulfilling experience helping out at a mobile food bank (you can read about that here, http://bit.ly/VvsGvL). That same day I had the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at the Feeding America Tampa Bay warehouse and headquarters. While I was there I also met the band Little Big Town and worked along side them to create weekend care packages for students.

Upon entering the facility it seemed very much like a regular office with various rooms, desks and computers. It didn’t take me long to see that this was more than just an office. This was a place that took feeding America’s hungry very seriously, especially children.

Lining the hallway were paper plates with messages written on them by children who benefit from the many different programs and services that Feeding America Tampa Bay offers it’s community. The messages written on the plates were for our Congress, voicing their concern about losing the programs that provide them with food. Here are a couple of examples.

It broke my heart to read handwritten messages to Congress begging them to keep their meal programs because without them these children would go hungry. In a country where elementary aged children are toting around iPhones and people don’t think twice about spending $4.50 on a Mocha Latte at a pricey coffee shop, hunger should NOT be happening.

The group I was with was waiting on the band Little Big Town to arrive for a press conference. While we waited I looked around the warehouse and asked many questions of the staff who work there.

Have you ever donated food at a charity drive? My family has done that before. I never really gave much thought to what happens to the food after it’s donated.

One of the staff members explained to me that food that is donated to Feeding America at area food drives arrive at the warehouse in huge boxes. Each box is then separated, putting all of the items that are alike together in one spot. From there the food moves to “skids” which are large, wooden square “floors” (for lack of a better description). Once they get to a certain height they are wrapped and moved to the appropriate location in the warehouse until they are ready to distribute the goods. Perishables are moved to the fridge or freezer.

At first I thought that was kind of odd. I would think they would distribute the food immediately. They do, but they need to have some kind of an organized system in place or else it would be impossible to find what they need. That is why all the rice is packaged together, all the pasta is packaged together, all the cereals are packaged together and so forth.

I was very surprised to see that there were pet foods (and non-pet food items) that were also collected. As you know animals are also near and dear to my heart so it was nice to see that people thought about pets too. After all, if a food insecure family is having a hard time putting food on the table for their children, they are also struggling to feed their pets too.

The warehouse is massive! It think it’s bigger than most wholesale clubs like Sam’s or BJ’s. I’m sure rent is incredibly expensive.

The warehouse is filled with skids of food. The perishables are kept in the fridge or freezer so I didn’t really see them. What I saw out on the warehouse floor was the non-perishables.

It might look like a lot of food, but it’s really not. According to the Feeding America Tampa Bay official site they provide food for 400,000 people in 10 different counties. More than 509,000 people in West Central Florida are unsure where their next meal will come from, so more people need to be reached. So what might seem like a lot really isn’t, not considering the amount of people who depend on organizations such as Feeding America to help provide meals for their struggling families.

Considering that the average American usually eats breakfast. lunch, dinner and even snacks on a daily basis – 7 days a week – what you see is not nearly enough to provide 400,000+ people with that same luxury. They are happy to have one decent meal but clearly need more food to help them get through the week, or even just the day. I know when I don’t eat for several hours I feel tired, cranky and famished. I cannot imagine having to feel that way all day long, often days at a time. That is what many food insecure families experience every week.

When I was in the sorting room I noticed freezers with individual foods in it. In the warehouse there were shelves, like you would see in a grocery store, stocked with assorted non-perishable foods. I learned from a staff member that the frozen food cases and the shelves that I saw are for organizations to come and “shop” for the foods that their clients need. Of course they don’t pay for the food. It’s free, just like all the food that Feeding America offers.

In some cases these organizations can also shop for items online via a special site set up by Feeding America. That way they know what is currently in stock and if what they need is available to them.

Sadly individuals and families cannot shop at the warehouse. It’s strictly for organizations who shop on behalf of their clients.

As you can see from the photos some of the shelves had ample amounts of food on them whereas others did not. All the foods were grouped together by similar products or brands.

The freezers contained meats, produce, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese and other items.

Some people might notice products that others might consider not “quality” or healthy foods. Many organizations DO donate fresh produce, meats, eggs, rice, milk, juice and other quality staples. Other foods are donated by people in the community. Food banks are not going to turn down a food donation just because others might not see it as “real food”. Not only that, food insecure families are people too – just like you and I. Even food insecure families enjoy treats like cakes, cookies and chips, especially children. They see their friends and classmates enjoying these types of foods and they want to be able to enjoy them too.

After my tour is was time to meet the band Little Big Town at a press conference being held at the Feeding America Tampa Bay warehouse. They are currently promoting ConAgra Foods’ Child Hunger Ends Here campaign. The ConAgra Foods Foundation has helped to donate 302 million pounds of food for Feeding America as well as more than $37 million dollars to help fight hunger since 1993.

Fighting child hunger is something that the band is passionate about and they are honored to lend their voices to the cause as well as to roll up their sleeves and help out. While they were there they helped put together 100 care packages for children to take home with them after school on Friday. Myself and another blogger representative, Piera from Jolly Mom, also helped the band put together the packages.

Credit/Copyright: Fleishman-Hillard, on Behalf of the ConAgra Foods Foundation

These special packages are just one of the many ways Feeding America helps to feed America’s hungry children. For many of these children the only meal they get is at school. So what happens on the weekends? For most of these children it means they will go hungry until school starts up again. To help get them through the weekend, Feeding America puts together these special bags filled with food so that the child does not go hungry.

I cannot even begin to tell you how good it made me feel to know that I helped put together 100 of these special bags and knowing that 100 children won’t be hungry that weekend.

The band members – Karen, Kimberly, Jimi and Philip – are delightful. They were super sweet and friendly. It was a pleasure to meet them at the event. You can tell that they truly are very committed to this cause.

Credit/Copyright: Fleishman-Hillard, on Behalf of the ConAgra Foods Foundation

You can learn more about the band, and listen to their music, at www.LittleBigTown.com/Home.

Everyone who worked at the Feeding America Tampa Bay warehouse was very kind and more than happy to answer all my questions. I also find it refreshing that everyone there was so happy, warm and very kind. I’m sure working at a warehouse isn’t always a thrilling job, but these wonderful people seem to truly enjoy what they do. I’m sure it’s because they know they are helping to fight hunger in their community.

I found it very interesting to learn that that one warehouse has HUNDREDS of hours of volunteer service each and every month. Students, families, businesses, teenagers, churches and many others willingly show up each and every month to volunteer their time and service. I think that is great that hundreds of volunteer hours are served there every month. It shows that a lot of people are committed to ending hunger.

I am sure that your local Feeding America facility, or local food bank, would truly appreciate your time. Even if you have just an hour to spare once a month it can make a huge difference. Please consider volunteering. You can find a location near you by visiting www.FeedingAmerica.org.

My visit to the warehouse was not only educational, but also inspiring. I think one of the quotes found on the wall in the warehouse says it best.

Actually this was one of many wonderful quotes I found painted on the walls around the warehouse.

To learn more about Feeding America please visit the link above. You can also find them on Facebook and on Twitter @FeedingAmerica.

If you would like to learn more about ConAgra Foods’ commitment to ending child hunger in the United States, or to find out how you can help, please visit the ConAgra Foods Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/ConAgraFoods. You can also follow them on Twitter, @ConAgraFoods as well as follow the conversation using the hashtag #ChildHunger.

You can also say hello to our friends at Feeding America Tampa Bay on their Facebook page and on Twitter.


*This post is part of the Child Hunger Ends Here campaign and I am being compensated for my participation, however all opinions expressed are entirely my own and are not influenced in any way

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About Kimberly

Kimberly Vetrano resides in the suburbs of New York City with her family and "mini zoo" consisting of five cats, a dog and a Goldfish. Kimberly is a teacher's assistant for a Kindergarten class. When she is not working or blogging, Kimberly enjoys taking photos of nature and hanging out with family and friends.