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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Every Wednesday a group of volunteers gathers at the High Springs Farmer's Market to distribute food to those in need. Known as the High Springs Mobile Pantry, the group of 20 volunteers pass out fresh meat, vegetables, fruit and bread to residents waiting in a long line of cars. Volunteers are a diverse group from various churches, residents who want to help, and even individuals who, themselves, have been in that line needing food at some point and then deciding to help others in the same situation.

“The volunteers that distribute the food are very dedicated to helping others and many of them know what it feels like to be in that situation because they have been in need at some time,” said Mobile Pantry director Anna James.

“Before the COVID pandemic, most of our clients were elderly, living on a small fixed income and would occasionally be in need.,” said James. “Volunteering with the Mobile Pantry is their way of giving back to the community.”

James started the program 11 years ago when she was working with Fellowship Baptist Church to offer food to those in need. At the time, James also worked with Bread Of The Mighty Food Bank, Inc., a non-profit organization that collects, stores and distributes donated or purchased fresh food. Over 35 years they have built a network of 170 non-profit agency partners with over 500 volunteers such as food pantries, churches, homeless shelters and other organizations that distribute the food to those in need.

James connected the church with Bread of the Mighty and continued the food distribution program. The church and other volunteers would contribute money to help purchase the food and cover expenses. Over the next few years, the program spread beyond the church and James had volunteers from multiple sources.” I couldn't have continued this program without the dedication of the volunteers,” James said.

James was also responsible for getting the City of High Springs involved, providing the Civic Center as a long-term location to have people come and pick up what food they needed.

“We would typically serve about 250 individuals and families each week with about 80 percent of the customers being elderly,” said James. “That was prior to the COVID Pandemic which radically changed everything.” James says that the need for food assistance increased as people lost income, and she saw a large increase in families in dire situations. “I had a number of people who came in reluctantly, claiming they never expected to be in this situation,” said James. “At the height of the Pandemic last year we were distributing food to 2,000 people each week.:

James says numbers are down now, but they are still are averaging 600 to 1,000 people a week and distributing over 35,000 pounds of fresh food.

COVID also changed the way they distributed the food and the location. For health safety they moved it outdoors to maintain social distancing and avoid crowded indoor spaces that could cause cases among volunteers and clients, who already had enough problems without endangering their health.

“Our mission is to help those in need, not jeopardize the,” said James. “The city offered us the Farmers Market where we could have cars drive by and put the food in their trunks to keep everyone safe.”

This method has been adopted by many charity food organizations and it works well, so James doesn’t see it reverting back to indoors with close contact.

James adds that despite the huge increase of people in need, they were able to keep up with the demand, thanks to the great efforts by Bread of the Mighty and the people who volunteer with the High Springs Mobile Food Bank. “Their continued dedication to helping others is amazing,” said James. “Even in the worst of the Pandemic they still came every week to distribute the food.”

James believes that everybody deserves to be able to have enough food to feed their families despite their income, and the need is greater than ever. “It's all about helping others,” James said.

The High Springs Mobile Pantry mainly serves High Springs but James says they also go to other communities in the surrounding counties if needed.

The Mobile Pantry is at the High Springs Farmer's Market at 23517 N.W. 185th Road, High Springs, Florida, every Wednesday to distribute food from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. or whenever all the food is gone. More information or to volunteer can be found by visiting their Facebook page — Anna High Springs.

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