Bankers United for Northwest Florida is fighting against hunger in Okaloosa and Walton Counties with its “Canned Love” food drive from Feb. 14 to March 14 to benefit Harvest House of Destin, Sharing and Caring of Okaloosa County and Caring and Sharing of South Walton.



Participants include BancorpSouth, Regions, Coastal Bank and Trust, Hancock Bank, BBVA Compass, Trustmark, Beach Community Bank, Community Bank, First City Bank, Lowe’s and United Way. Boxes for the food drive will be located at these local banks. Non-perishable food items are appreciated, as well as financial donations.



“This cause is important because many don’t understand hunger exists in our prosperous community, but poor economic conditions, the real estate bust and the oil spill have exponentially increased the number of hungry and homeless in our community,” Ron Moliterno, BancorpSouth division president in Destin, said.



The mission of the Harvest House is to provide food, clothing and shelter to those who are less fortunate and at a point of need in their lives. In 2001, Harvest House assisted more than 600 homeless and more than 2,000 non-homeless. Nearly 200 children received Christmas toys, and close to 5,000 bags of groceries were distributed. More than $11,000 per month is spent to keep the pantry stocked.



Sharing and Caring of Okaloosa County, Inc., is an emergency food bank providing a basic staple of foods and assistance with prescription medication for needy individuals and families. The food bank serves more than 19,000 clients and is 100 percent volunteer staffed. Sharing and Caring recently started a program called Kid’s Backpack to provide weekend food for the hungry.



Caring and Sharing of South Walton, Inc., works to provide food and assistance through the support of volunteers and contributors to members of the community who are in need of help. Caring and Sharing’s major projects are helping with the needs for back to school, Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas for the youth. On average, Caring and Sharing has been able to assist more than 6,500 people yearly with food, medicine, rent and utilities.



“Lunch at school may be the only food some children have all day,” Moliterno said. “Hunger is real and affects many children, individuals and families in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Now, the communities can unite with the area bankers to help fight against it.”



Bankers United was established in 2012 by a group of local bankers in Northwest Florida. The mission is to bring people together to help the community through events. “Bankers United Against Hunger” is the first event since the group’s initiation and begins with the “Canned Love” food drive. For more information, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bankersunited.