2020 has been a challenging year for many people, and two Florida-based businesses are stepping in to help to fight hunger and provide funding to support mental health services to residents in need.
Earlier this week, Publix launched a six-week program to support six of the state’s largest food banks with donations of pasta, canned vegetables, canned beans, cereal and boxed potatoes. With some food banks reporting as much as a 400 percent increase in demand and more than 2.7 million Floridians struggling with food insecurity, the need has never been greater.
“When we heard from food banks that they were facing a critical food shortage, we knew that, as a food retailer, we had another opportunity to help,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said in a statement.
Thomas Mantz, president and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay, told the Catalyst via email that “our work to end hunger in the Tampa Bay region by creating health and capability in the lives of those we serve has taken on a whole new meaning this year” and expressed gratitude for the donations from Publix.
“With more people than ever before experiencing financial instability and food insecurity, it is critical that communities stand together to rebuild,” he said. “Publix has shown an unwavering commitment to food banks across the nation for many years and, because of their support today, tomorrow is possible for millions of families.”
According to its 2020 annual report, Feeding Tampa Bay, which serves a 10-county area, the number of people in need almost tripled from 600,000 to 1.7 million during the peak of the pandemic. In Pinellas County alone, Feeding Tampa Bay distributed more than 14 million meals this year. In 2019, that number stood at just under 12 million.
Publix’s new program comes seven months after the supermarket chain launched an initiative to purchase surplus produce and milk from farmers impacted by the pandemic. Through that program, Publix expects to purchase and deliver more than 18 million pounds of produce and over 500,000 gallons of milk to Feeding America member food banks throughout the Southeast this year, including more than 7 million pounds of produce and more than 250,000 gallons of milk to the six Florida food banks receiving additional support this holiday season.
Suncoast Credit Union is also doing its part to help community members in need. The credit union will donate $385,000 to food banks across the state and will also give $165,000 to 11 affiliates of the National Alliance on Mental Illness statewide. NAMI affiliates have seen a dramatic increase in requests for services during the pandemic as people struggle with the stresses of potential job loss, quarantines and financial pressures.
“Covid-19 has had serious implications on mental health throughout our nation, with research showing impact on individuals and relationships. We feel a moral obligation to support this serious issue,” Suncoast Credit Union President and CEO Kevin Johnson said in a statement. “This year has brought real struggles, challenges, and loss for so many, and we are committed to lifting our communities up and providing support for those who need it.”
This donation is the second of its kind this year for Suncoast, following a $1 million donation to hunger, healthcare and education organizations for Covid relief efforts in May.