'It takes a village to feed a village'

Nonprofits provide food for the holidays

Savannah Vasquez
The food pantry at Harvest House Destin is the heart of the charity's mission. The pantry is promoting "No Hunger Holidays," offering special Christmas dinner provisions to families and indviduals in need. [SAVANNAH VASQUEZ/DAILY NEWS]

There are plenty of charities that rally around Christmas to help bring toys to children in need, but what about that most basic human need, food?

That is where two local Destin nonprofits step in – Harvest House Destin and Food for Thought Outreach.

“We are aiming to provide for 60 families this year,” said Lori Joyner, executive director for Destin Harvest House. “We have all-inclusive Christmas dinners with a ham, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, new potatoes, soda and canned pineapple, and then for dessert we have a cake.”

Harvest House of Destin has been providing a food pantry for the Destin community for nearly 32 years and runs its operation solely on donations as well as sales from its adjoining thrift shop.

“The Destin community is like the backbone of the Harvest House,” Joyner said. “Without the generosity of everyone as far as donating items, volunteering with us and praying for us … it takes a village to feed a village.”

This Christmas season, Harvest House is promoting its food drive, No Hunger Holidays, to insure that no family or individual goes hungry on Christmas day.

“We are really in need of packaged foods such as cereal, ravioli, SpaghettiOs and little macaroni and cheeses,” Joyner said. “But we do this year-round … people are not just hungry at Christmas time. Our biggest needs come in January, February and March.”

Year-round food provision for school-aged children is the direct mission of Santa Rosa Beach based non-profit Food For Thought Outreach. Founder Tiffanie Nelson said that the non-profit’s regular weekend backpack program services 2,886 children every week of the year across Okaloosa and Walton counties.

“When my son started kindergarten, that was my first introduction to food insecurity,” said Nelson, of the start to the nonprofit seven years ago. “I had no idea there was a problem with that in this area, let alone in my own child’s school.”

Today, Food For Thought Outreach provides food-filled backpacks to 30 schools across Okaloosa and Walton counties that are filled with nutritional food to insure that no child goes hungry over weekends or school breaks when school-provided meals are not available.

As for donations for the holiday season, Nelson said there are plenty of ways to give back through Food For Thought.

“We are busy this Christmas season packing up our services to support the children that are in our programs this holiday season,” Nelson said. “What we’re going to be able to do is provide families with enough food to take their kids through the holiday break. In order for us to do that we depend on our community to help support our services and what you can do to help is sponsor a family this holiday season.”

Nelson added that a $30 donation will provide one family with enough food to cover meal needs over the 10- to 12-day school holiday break. Food For Thought will use the money to provide two large grocery bags full of food, including a Christmas ham.

“In those food packages the families are going to get two large grocery bags full of food,” she said. “The first bag is going to have food that is appropriate for kids of any age to prepare cook on their own, regardless of their situation. Then there’s going to be another bag of food that’s going to have large sustainable meals to take the families through the 10 to 12 days that they are going to miss their free and reduced meals at school that they depend on to feed their children.”

Help provide food for a local family in need this holiday season by donating to Harvest House Destin or to Food For Thought Outreach. To donate to Harvest House's No Hunger Holidays, visit www.harvesthousedestin.org/donate. To donate to Food For Thought Outreach's Christmas Support, visit www.fftfl.org and click on the donate tab. Both charities also are in need of year-round monetary support as well as volunteer hours.

Families or individuals who need help with providing food over the holidays should contact these organizations as soon as possible.

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