Saturday before last, 836 vehicles drove through a line on the Statesboro High School campus and received 999 family-size boxes of nonperishable food items, plus some fresh produce, in a Feed the Boro free distribution funded by the city.
Now the next distribution, again with $5,000 for deeply discounted groceries from an America’s Second Harvest food bank paid by Statesboro’s city government from its federal coronavirus relief cash, is set for Feb. 20 at the same location. A third monthly distribution, slated for March 27, will be funded with $3,000 from the city plus $2,000 from Feed the Boro donors.
Each distribution begins at 9 a.m. on its assigned Saturday. Each box contains 25 pounds of staple food items in bags, cartons and cans. Each month’s 1,000 boxes, plus varied produce on hand, are meant to be enough to feed 1,000 four-person families two meals a day for one week.
“The difference between 836 and 1,000 is that some vehicles receive a double portion because they have more than one family inside … and larger families we’ll give a double portion to, and we try to space it out as best we can,” said Feed the Boro Chairman Don Poe.
At the end of the Jan. 30 distribution, one food box was left, he said. Poe later replaced the gallon of milk with a fresh one, replaced the meat items and took the 1,000th box to a homebound friend.
Some City Council members were among the volunteers who directed traffic and carried food to the trunks and hatches of waiting vehicles that day. Mayor Jonathan McCollar then reported on the food drop, and noted that people from 836 vehicles had signed in, during the Feb. 2 council meeting.
“What that shows us is that there’s a continued need for the distributions, and that’s one thing that we want to continue to make sure we stay focused on, helping those that are in need right now so we can navigate this time period,” McCollar said after the meeting.
The February and March distributions will follow the same pattern, Poe said.
Drivers will be expected to approach Statesboro High from Fleming Road behind the football stadium and drive as directed toward the front of the campus. Vehicles’ trunks should be open and empty. Volunteers will put the food into the car and then close the trunk.
An adult from each household receiving food is asked to fill out a short form, which includes a chart of maximum monthly and weekly household incomes for eligibility. Blanks are to be filled in with the numbers of children, adults and seniors over age 65 in each household. Then the head of household is supposed to sign, indicating that the household is income-eligible.
The forms are handed to drivers and then collected, but the volunteers have no means or time to check eligibility, Poe said. Instead, they rely on a kind of honor system, expecting people to take the food only if they need it.
“I think the need is going to be there for a while,” he said Monday.
For more than 25 years Feed the Boro remained an informal volunteer effort to cook and provide Thanksgiving dinners to Statesboro-area people in need. But after cancelling last Thanksgiving’s event as a pandemic precaution, Feed the Boro volunteers used their donor support to pay for drive-through monthly grocery distributions in November and December.
The city then stepped in to continue these through the first quarter of 2021, and donors have provided the other $2,000 for March.
“Donations have been coming in, so we have the funding to do it now,” Poe said. “But we also don’t want to exhaust that funding, so that if the need continues after March or if something happens in this area, a hurricane, a natural disaster, we can assist with that if our funding is not depleted completely.”
Information on contributing can be found at https://feedtheboro.com.
The city’s funding for January, February and March food distributions, totaling $13,000, is a small portion of the $1.7 million indirect federal grant Statesboro received last fall under the original CARES Act, for “Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security.”
City Council in October set aside a total of $250,000 for three local direct-relief programs. These included $100,000 for rent and mortgage help to Statesboro residents in danger of eviction or foreclosure and $75,000 each to a utility bill assistance fund and a program to help small businesses.
But when the utility bill assistance program had used less than one-tenth of its allocation by December, the mayor and council shifted $13,000 to food relief.
The city government also awarded roughly $150,000 from its CARES grant to its approximately 300 employees, $500 to each, as hazard pay for work done during the pandemic.
The city also had some direct COVID-19 response expenses but has held onto the remaining $1 million-plus to avoid reducing its reserve, since total budgeted spending exceeded the current year’s projected revenue.