Thanksgiving is going to look a lot different this year, with travel alerts and calls for fewer people at the dinner table. It also means that people who serve the homeless population in the region must also adapt to life with COVID.
“The last 70 have looked a whole lot different than the one that’s coming up,” said Bob Rogers. He has worked with the Waterfront Mission in Pensacola in many capacities over many years. This year he is working in development and community relations as the nonprofit prepares for its annual Thanksgiving dinner.
“To me, it represents what the first Thanksgiving must have been like," said Rogers. "Where those who had and those who didn’t have, they came, they celebrated the beautiful day with a great meal (filled with) fellowship and just being thankful for the many blessings that they do experience, no matter what their station in life.”
In a normal Thanksgiving season, the Waterfront Mission would be bustling with activity. Leading up to the day, volunteers would be preparing food, setting up tables and getting ready to welcome the expected crowd. On Thursday they would serve about 500 Thanksgiving meals.
This year on Thanksgiving Day the mission will be quiet, but the organization will still be very busy during the week.
“We are coordinating with other agencies in the community that serve folks and that do have staff to help provide the supplies and the hot traditional meals for them to provide to the people that they serve every day. (Agencies) like the local coalition, Epps Christian Center, through the VOA, Volunteers of America. The coalition is going to 30 different homes, Volunteers of America has about 30 veterans that they are serving. Also Opening Doors is going to receive about 150 meals all together. And then on Thanksgiving Day we are going to provide the meal for Taking It To The Streets Ministry at Ensley First Baptist Church.”
Waterfront Mission serves people who are struggling with homelessness, poverty and addiction. The need for those services is rising as the pandemic and other factors continue to weigh down the economy.
“COVID has been very tough, a couple of hurricanes that we’ve gone through" said Rogers. "And could you imagine going through that and on top of that being homeless? Their immune system is already deficient, so it’s a very vulnerable population whether it’s due to diet of lack of sleep or inclement weather or just being close-in with other folks that are of that same nature. So yes, they are having a difficult time.”
"Waterfront is such a great organization,” said De De Flounlacker, executive director at Manna Food Pantries. “That’s one of the partnerships that we have. We really believe in the work that Waterfront does.”
It has been a very unusual year at Manna Food Pantries. The organization had to stop taking food donations early in the spring due to the pandemic. And while the food donations were down, the need was going up.
“Before COVID, food insecurity was a major challenge in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. And then COVID hit, and what we saw was that a lot of people who never needed our help before needed our help. So the need has increased dramatically. COVID has compounded the problem and has created more food insecurity in our communities and more neighbors in need. It’s really astounding. We have given away over 600 thousand pounds of food in the past 12 months, (that’s) an increase of about 40% to 50% in the number of people that we’ve seen this year.”
Because they were not able to take food donations throughout the spring and summer, including the annual nationwide Stamp Out Hunger campaign with the postal service, Flounlacker says Manna spent about 100 thousands dollar on food this year compared with about 20 thousand last year. They are holding their annual Fill The Mayflower event Monday and Tuesday in the Cordova Mall parking lot across from Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital.
“It’s going to look a little different this year. We’re asking people not to walk up with food, but instead if you just pull your car up, we’re going to have volunteers (so you can just) pop the trunk and we’re going to be able to get that food out for you. It will be completely (contact-free) and believe me the food is really needed this year. We are counting on this food drive to help us get through, honestly the spring-time.”
The Fill The Mayflower for Manna event is going on Monday from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m., and again on Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m.