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Navarre Nonprofit Retools Food Program To Help Families

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Outreach Navarre
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Since 2015, Outreach Navarre has been feeding nearly 500 students on a weekly basis through its weekend food program. But when schools shut down in March, they had to find a new way to serve the community. 

The weekend program works with the six Navarre schools to identify students who may be food-insecure and send them home with two breakfasts, two lunches, two snacks and a juice box. The nonprofit also delivers almost 7,000 snacks to teachers who then distribute them to kids who are hungry. 

“We chose to pivot into helping families,” said Michelle Abrams, president of Outreach Navarre. 

Feeding 477 kids every week requires a lot of food. Whatever pre-bought stock Abrams had was given to local food assistance programs such as We Care, ACTS Ministries, and FoodRaising Friends. Outreach Navarre is a small nonprofit run completely by volunteers out of donated spaces. Which is why Abrams worked to make a local impact by joining forces with other programs.  

“We want to bring agencies together to use our resources and make the most of what we all should be doing,” said Abrams. “No one should have to run to hell’s half-acre just to get what they need.” 

Last month, the nonprofit was awarded a $13,800 grant from United Way of West Florida to help families impacted by COVID-19. The grant requires that assistance supports those who have become unemployed after March 17 or if their hours were reduced by 50%. 

Families can apply for assistance through We Care at wecare@navarreumc.org or by phone at 939-1005. Those who qualify will receive four-to-five days’ worth of food and recipes, along with a box of donated produce from City Produce. 

Abrams said she sees the assistance as a trampoline for families. 

“We want to help them bounce back up and help take a burden off their shoulders,” she said. 

With the pandemic, Abrams said programs are being “very, very conscious,” to keep themselves and others safe, from sanitizing after grocery runs to limiting the numbers of volunteers at distribution sites. One of the biggest challenges now for the nonprofit is being able to purchase food. 

“We’re used to buying bulk, but we’re unable to do that at this time,” said Abrams. “We had volunteers going to grocery stores in Destin just to find items, but we’re continuing to shop. We still have food left (from the weekend food program) so we’re try to use some of those products to stretch that grant money and help families longer.”

The response so far has been “humbling,” said Abrams. She recognizes that many of the families are navigating a financial crisis for the first time in a system, she says, can be broken at times. 

“We’re working to dig a little harder and humanize the process,” she said. “It’s not an ‘us’ or ‘them’ situation. It’s a ‘we.’”