The beginning of a new school year has taken off. However, that means many children along the Emerald Coast become dependent on free or reduced school meals. For many of these children, these meals during the week are the only meals they get. That’s where Food for Thought Outreach, Inc. comes in. Food for Thought is a not-for-profit organization based in Santa Rosa Beach. Through a multitude of volunteers, they provide backpacks filled with healthy, easy to prepare food for students in need.
With a heart for our community and the fostering of the development and education of the next generation, Howard Hospitality partnered with Food for Thought to help further their goal. Since starting with just six students in 2010, Food for Thought has grown to serve 3,000 students. Furthermore, they are active in over 30 schools in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. The efforts of Food for Thought ultimately allows the children that it serves to focus on their development and education by removing the fear and insecurities that comes from not knowing if they will have enough to eat. By providing these children with a simple backpack filled with healthy, easy to prepare food or in school snack pantries, Food for Thought is supporting their physical development. They are also empowering them to grow into productive students and happy children. Studies have even shown that Food for Thought’s programs have impacted students in numerous ways including missing less school, having fewer sick days, doing better in math, as well as being more likely to graduate high school.
Food for Thought Initiatives
Food for Thought is constantly seeking new ways to reach the children and families in our community. Currently, Food for Thought has five ways that they provide hunger relief to the thousands of students that it serves:
- Weekly backpacks during the school year for students receiving free or reduced lunches to close the gap of missed meals over the weekend
- Monthly snacks provided to teachers in schools receiving Food for Thought services to fight immediate signs of hunger
- Holiday services to help feed families in need during long breaks from school including the summer
- Garden initiatives at select schools and at the Destin Pantry
- The Full Circle Kitchen, sponsored by the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and local businesses such as Howard Hospitality, that provides skills and additional sources of food to some of the most at-risk students in Okaloosa and Walton counties.
To get an idea of the impact that Food for Thought has had on our community, let’s take a look back at what all they have accomplished over this past year! For starters, over 60,000 backpacks were distributed with each backpack containing 10 items of food. That’s over 600,000 food items distributed throughout the school year. In addition, 612,000 pieces of fresh produce items and 28,611 fresh loaves of bread were distributed via backpacks this year. Also, 4,104 snack bags were distributed to teachers and school nurses. These contained over 244,000 snacks as part of the monthly snack bags that combat immediate signs of hunger in the schools. Overall, between the backpacks, snacks, and holiday services, over one million food items were distributed by Food for Thought.
Of course, they didn’t stop once the school year was over. During the summer vacation, students miss an average of 110 meals. Food for Thought was able to provide 1,218 meals during June, July, and August of 2017. These meals included family-sized boxes of pasta and sauce, mac and cheese, cereal, fresh fruit, snack items, and oatmeal. Their summer distribution included over 220 volunteer hours and took place at 4 locations across two counties. Their outreach also continued during holiday breaks. Students miss between 10 and 20 meals during Thanksgiving and Winter Break and Food for Thought was able to provide 550 turkeys, 500 hams, additional food items, and over $13,000 in donations for Holiday Giving programs which provided 20,000-holiday meals. Food for Thought also partnered with local businesses to provide toys, books, and gifts for 400 kids.
There are many ways that you can help make an impact! Next time you’re staying with us at Courtyard by Marriott Sandestin at Grand Boulevard, make sure to stop by the Front Desk to learn more about Food for Thought and to purchase an adorable plush turtle to benefit Food for Thought. Our team at Courtyard Sandestin would love to share more information about how you can join in on the fun and volunteer, too.
Did you know you can even make an impact no matter where you are in the world? Check out these great ways to support Food for Thought and their efforts!