By Anna-Marie Menhenott
TREASURE COAST -- As families struggle each week to make ends meet, the hopes of a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings is usually not very high on their list of necessities.
However, those at Harvest Food & Outreach Center feel that every family deserves to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. So, with the generosity of the community, several local businesses and Aramark and Southern Commerce Bank, hundreds of local families can rest easy knowing they, too, can celebrate a day of thanks with a hot, nourishing meal.
"There are many families who just don't have the extra money to buy a turkey this year," said Deb Pizzimenti, Community Relations Coordinator at Harvest Food & Outreach Center. "With the recent decrease in food stamp benefits, families who were barely feeding their families are now struggling even more."
"So far in the first week of November 2013, there has been a five percent increase in shoppers at the center, however, SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits are not just a "first of the month" program any longer. We have folks receiving their benefit throughout the month, so the increase of traffic at the center is surely to rise.
The center offers life skill classes to accompany the discounted food offered.
"We have classes that teach residents how to properly pay bills, how to make their food stamps stretch in order to get the most with what they receive and ultimately, a way to get out of the system so they are no longer relying on food stamps to feed their families," Ms. Pizzimenti said. "With the jobs being scarce and the decrease in benefits, it's a tough road, but we let them know that they can do it and that we are a source of encouragement and determination when they feel lost."
Most of the participants in the center's programs are 200 percent below the poverty level. It effects everyone and the center is hoping that those who are able can help those who are in need.
"Southern Commerce Bank and Aramark have been extremely generous in helping the center give holiday meals to families in need," Ms. Pizzimenti said. "They have both made huge food donations to the center. Dominick's Corner Grill in Fort Pierce has donated vouchers for 400 turkeys which will be given away, along with side dishes, on Sunday, Nov. 24, from 1- 3 p.m. at the Port St. Lucie Civic Center. This will be a huge event, which will include bounce houses from All In Fun, face painting, music and a good time for all.
Businesses are also collecting food for the pantry to help families during the holidays. Those locations include Hometown News, 5059 Turnpike Feeder Road, Lakewood Park; St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office, several schools throughout the county, City hall in Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce; Southern Commerce Bank locations. In Vero Beach, locations include the UPS Store, 2046 Treasure Coast Plaza, Suite A; Treasure Coast Family Dental - Dr. Hamilton, 6610 20th St, Vero Beach; Best Buy, 6156 20th St, Vero Beach and Sunshine Kids, 1001 Roseland Road, Sebastian.
Harvest Food and Outreach Center will also receive 100 percent of the proceeds from the sixth annual Thanksgiving Day 5K Trot Against Hunger, which will include a sweet potato pancake breakfast.
For more information on the race, visit www.trotagainsthunger.org. For more information on donating food for families in need this holiday season, call Deb Pizzimenti at (772) 532-5007.