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St. Petersburg Free Clinic adds a new way to connect people with healthy food

Jaymi Butler

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St. Petersburg Free Clinic
The St. Petersburg Free Clinic has seen increased demand for emergency food since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Getting healthy food to those who need it has always been a main focus for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, and Covid-19 isn’t stopping the nonprofit from finding new ways to help people make healthier choices.

On Friday, July 24, the clinic will host its first FRESH Pantry Plus event from 8:30 a.m. to noon, at 863 3rd Ave. North. It’s an expansion of the clinic’s existing We Help FRESH Pantry program that provides healthy food to Pinellas County residents. 

“As a health-focused organization, especially in the midst of a health crisis, it’s our responsibility to not just deliver our services, but to do so while ensuring all those who visit us, in any of our programs, come away with tangible ways to protect and improve their health,” said the clinic’s CEO Jennifer Yeagley.

“That’s why we’re launching our 4th Friday FRESH Pantry Plus: to ensure that we’re not just keeping families fed, but keeping them healthy.”  

During the event, clients can drive through and get the same fresh produce they’d get from the pantry on a regular day along with the additional benefits of something that focuses on health, said Sheryl Zeitler, the clinic’s director of communications. 

This month, the clinic will be giving out printed recipes that can be made with the food being distributed, summer food safety health tips and cutting boards. And, because no one can have enough these days, masks and hygiene kits will also be provided.

The new program seems like a natural extension for the clinic, which has seen demand for emergency food triple during the Covid-19 pandemic. Zeitler said that people are often surprised to find so many fresh options when they pick up their food. About 70 percent of what’s provided is fresh including meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. 

“Sometimes people aren’t sure what to do with the food,” Zeitler said. “One day we had whole fryers of chicken and a lot of people told us they didn’t know how to cook it.”

That’s when the clinic decided to team up with local dietitian and nutritionist Wendy Wesley. Wesley now creates weekly cooking videos in the clinic’s teaching kitchen using ingredients from the FRESH pantry that are then posted on YouTube

The videos, along with the giveaways, are aimed at promoting a healthy lifestyle even during a pandemic. At future 4th Friday events, Zeitler said the clinic plans to host health screenings and other programming that will help continue the conversation about the importance of taking care of yourself. For now, everything is focused on what can be done via drive-through.

“It’s been quite humbling to see our volunteers out there in the car line,” she said. 

The FRESH Pantry is open for drive-through and walk-up food distribution Monday-Wednesday 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Thursdays 8:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. Clients will be asked to confirm they are Pinellas County residents. For more information, click here.

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