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Allison Senkarik, wife of a U.S. Army Wounded Veteran, volunteers at the Newberry Food Distribution event. (Photo special to Alachua County Today)

NEWBERRY – Over 700 people were provided free food in Newberry on Saturday, Oct. 1. The Newberry American Legion Post #149, located at 26821 West Newberry Rd., hosted a Food Distribution Event from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., made possible by county and state support.

A Christian Adventure Network named 10 CAN, Inc., which focuses on rehabilitating and improving fitness of veterans and military families through nature, held a soft launch of their program “Operation Farm2Health,” also known as OF2H. The program would be a way to combat poverty while healing wounded veterans.

“Horticulture therapy is one of the most effective rehabilitative tools available for individuals with psychological wounds,” said Matthew Burke, Post #149 Commander and Founder of 10 CAN. “Teaching impoverished families how to grow their own food is a vital part of fighting poverty. While it is important to provide free food to families in need, doing so without a lesson plan is counterproductive,” he said.

Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad worked with Farm Share to set up the food distribution event. Farm Share was present with around 15 volunteers from the Jacksonville area.

“We have partnered with other organizations like Relay 4 Life and March for Dimes in the past,” Conrad said. “When I heard about it [Farm Share], I realized other cities in Alachua County had been taking part in this type of program and we wanted to be involved to benefit our citizens as well,” he said. “We knew we needed about 30 volunteers and a forklift when we took on this project. Fortunately, we had both.”

Farm Share uses inmate labor and volunteers to re-sort and package an abundance of surplus food and distribute it to individuals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, churches and other organizations feeding the hungry in Florida —       free of charge, according to their website at farmshare.org.

“We expected around 500 individuals to show with around 50 volunteers,” Burke said. “Both expectations were exceeded.”

The event was open to everyone in and around the community, with families from all around the tri-county area showing up.

The American Legion, Farm Share, Blessed Hope Foundation, City of Newberry and 10 CAN, Inc. all worked together to host this event. In addition to Mayor Conrad, Newberry City Commissioners Jordan Marlowe and Ricky Coleman and City Manager Mike New were all part of this process. Newberry's Lions Club, Christian Life Fellowship Church, Compelling Family Outreach Ministry, Get Fit Gainesville and other volunteers and sponsors also helped make this event a success.

“I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the community working together,” Burke said. “Many patrons who came to get food were low-income families.”

OF2H was introduced at the event, “but cannot go forward without funding from the city,” said Burke.

The OF2H program would teach 50 underprivileged families how to grow sustainable food throughout the year through local University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) workshops . They would also construct 30 residential raised garden beds for disabled individuals, two community gardens, a serenity maze and a children’s garden at the Newberry American Legion.

“Let us not focus on what we cannot do, but rather what we can do,” Burke said. “This is how we empower disabled individuals to be effective members of a community.”

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