By Heather Bennett
Food for Thought provides meals and snacks to children who are dependent on free or reduced school meals. They bridge meal gaps that might occur on the weekends or during holidays.
Tiffanie Nelson founded the organization in 2010. She was motivated to do something in the community when she realized how many children in the area are food insecure; which means they lack accessibility to affordable, nutritious food, and often go without several meals.
A food insecure child loses multiple meals during the week and weekend. It delays their mental, emotional, and physical development. If the issue becomes compounded over time, the students are more likely to be tardy, absent, and perform below their peers. This can then lead to greater anxiety and depression as they become teenagers. It’s something that children face right here in Walton County. Tiffanie said at least 26% of children in Walton and Okaloosa Counties are food insecure, which means about 3 kids in each classroom.
“We feel we have an opportunity to change their course of life,” said Tiffanie. “Our goal is to bridge their meal gap from Kindergarten through 12th grade. We can empower them to stay in school and get the most out of their education so they can become productive members of their community when they graduate.”
Food for Thought operates five programs year round that give children access to food. “We serve over 3,000 children in two counties across 33 schools,” stated Tiffanie. Their program delivers backpacks to the participating schools, which are distributed on Fridays. These are filled with healthy, easy to prepare food they can take home. The program costs $5 per child per week, and they distribute 40,000 food items a week.
During the summer, food insecure children miss the breakfasts and lunches they depend on during the school year, which equals about 110 meals. Food for Thought’s summer program aims to bridge that gap. Families who sign up can pick up a month’s worth of food once per month for three months. They distribute 70,000 meals over the summer.
Two years ago, Food for Thought opened a culinary program in their Full Circle Kitchen for children who are 14-19 years old. They are taught cooking skills and how to read a recipe. The kids and volunteers cook and eat together. “We sit directly with the kids that we serve and we learn so much about what their needs are and how we can best help,” said Tiffanie. “Most of these kids are running the household because their parents are working multiple jobs or they’re living with aging grandparents or an aunt or uncle.”
The majority of these families are hard working people who are just having a difficult time making ends meet, and Food for Thought is here to help. Others can also help by donating time or money. They are always looking for adult drivers who can distribute food to the schools. Food donations can be made on Tuesdays to one of their three locations. Currently they are looking for individually packaged snacks, oatmeal, small cereal, fruit cups, applesauce, milk and/or juice, pop-top cans of tuna, chicken, soup and Chef Boyardee. To donate funds, it only costs $5 a week to support a child. During the summer, that is $35 a week, $125 a month or $375 for the summer.
“We are not a state or federally funded organization. We are privately funded and we raise all of our own funds every year,” stated Tiffanie. “We try hard to work with local businesses and private foundations, and individual donors to cover our needs every year. The individual donors really drive what we need on a monthly basis.”
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