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Farm Share comes to Fort McCoy as COVID-19 increases need for free food

Meghan Magamoll, left, a staff member with the Public Education Foundation of Marion County, and Lerverne Jacobs, a board member, place food in the back of a car at Fort McCoy School on Wednesday. Photo: Joe Byrnes
Meghan Magamoll, left, a staff member with the Public Education Foundation of Marion County, and Lerverne Jacobs, a board member, place food in the back of a car at Fort McCoy School on Wednesday. Photo: Joe Byrnes

Four hundred thirty-two families queued up for free food supplies at Fort McCoy School in rural east Marion County on Wednesday.

Some of them have lost their jobs in the pandemic, others are retirees or they're on disability.

Many were there seeking help, not just for themselves but for friends and other family members.

The long loop of vehicles range from a high-end Ram truck and a shiny black Cadillac to rusty old pickups and faded minivans.

Many in the car line are older people, some have kids in the car and others have their dogs.

Several of the drivers spoke with me about the impacts of COVID-19.

Eureka retiree Terry Heil says he cans most of his own vegetables and doesn’t trust supermarket food. He isn't hurting much himself during the pandemic -- but others in his family are.

"Mainly this is what this is for, that I'm coming up here to help feed the rest of the family," Heil said.

Al Kabay of Fort McCoy had to close his restaurant-cleaning business on May 1st.

"I had some money, it wasn't a lot, in savings -- like most people don't -- and been going through it," Kabay said. It goes quickly when none's coming in, it's all going out. You've got your car loan, you've got your insurance payments. Thank God my property's paid for and home's paid for."

He has brought his neighbor's young son with him, hoping they can collect for her family as well.

One driver, Angela Pina, is a mother of two who works at the school. Her boyfriend lost his job thanks to COVID-19 and this food will help stretch their reduced income.

"It's just been really hard, especially when you have kids it's hard to manage all of that on a teacher's salary," she said. And she laughed.

For his part, Captain Jack Barker of Fort McCoy says the pandemic is a huge hoax cooked up by the radical left. Has it affected him?

"No, heaven’s no," Barker said. "Nor anybody I know."

The vehicles pull up one by one to the front of the school. And about 20 volunteers, including several with the Public Education Foundation of Marion County, put bags and boxes and bottles in the trunks and truck beds.

Leighsha Johnson coordinates the effort for Farm Share.

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About 20 volunteers helped distribute food provided by Farm Share at Fort McCoy School in east Marion County on Wednesday. Photo: Joe Byrnes[/caption]

The nonprofit partners with farmers in Florida and throughout the country and works with food pantries, churches and schools to distribute donated and surplus food to needy families.

"So today they're receiving milk, cereal, fruits and vegetables, chicken, butter, milk, rice, tuna, all sorts of items," Johnson said.

Since the beginning of March, Farm Share says it has distributed more than 31 million pounds of food.

"Of course there was always a demand in food, but since COVID-19 that demand has tripled," she said.

As the vehicles leave the campus, School District workers hand out meals for children.

And principal Jennifer Fisher says Fort McCoy School’s business partner -- Phoenix Wood Products -- has enabled them to buy food for a list of needy families.

"We have been providing macaroni and cheese, applesauce, some fruits, sometimes some vegetables, some meat, nonperishable food," she said.

She’s happy Farm Share chose their school.

"There is a great need for this community, great need. We are so blessed they asked us to host it and we will host any time they ask. We want to help as many people as we can."

Farm Share has dozens of distribution events scheduled this month, including one in Ocala on June 25 and two in Orlando after that. Visit farmshare.org for times and locations.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.