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Food insecurity in South Florida, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, holiday etiquette


On this Tuesday, Nov. 23, edition of Sundial:

Food insecurity in South Florida

It's the week a lot more people are thinking about volunteering and donating food ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, but what about all the other days of the year?

The food bank Feeding South Florida estimates there are more than 705,000 people experiencing food insecurity in our region. That would look like filling up Hard Rock Stadium ten times over.

Donating food helps. But, what can we do as a collective to try and change those numbers forever?

"The face of hunger might really surprise you. It's anyone from kids to older adults, to single-parent households to two-parent households, people that are working but are underemployed," said Sari Vatske, executive vice president of Feeding South Florida. "Food insecurity is a chronic state of not knowing where you're going to get your next meal. It's you have an empty refrigerator. You cannot go to the grocery store, you can't just pull up to a restaurant. It's, you know, people that are dealing with coping mechanisms and making tradeoffs. It's parents that are forgoing meals so that their children could eat instead."

One tip this year: don't donate homemade items or any open items. And avoid donating things like candy or potato chips.

"We really want to make sure that people aren't just eating, but that they're eating well and healthy. Peanut butter, pasta, canned goods, meals, pasta sauce — we try to make sure that families have immediate access to nutritious food," she said.

This year, the higher cost of gas and the supply chain disruptions hurt their plans to get Thanksgiving meals to folks.

"We placed an order for about 8,000 turkeys in September, and just last week we received a call that we weren't going to get any of them. So the price that we had paid in September was about $1.09 a pound and we had to bring in turkeys from Canada, from Texas, from Atlanta at almost double the price, at $1.90 a pound," she said.

"So it was kind of a double whammy for us having to pay more for turkeys, and then for us to deliver them. You know, the increased cost of gas is really where we needed the community support more than ever this year," Vatske said.

This year, she's thankful for the generous spirit of South Floridians who rally around the common cause of hunger.

"It's really heartening to see people believe still and in the spirit of each other, seeing the teamwork incredibly hard to make sure that the people have a happy holiday," she said. "It's inspiring and motivating."

Food insecurity in South Florida
A food pantry client adds a carton of yogurt to her cart at the food pantry at Jewish Family Services in Denver, Colo.

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava

Daniella Levine Cava became the first Democrat in 20 years to become mayor of Miami-Dade County.

A year into her term she has faced a slew of challenges from the pandemic to the Surfside tragedy to the unrest in countries like Cuba and Haiti, which have a massive diaspora here in South Florida.

“Miami, while we are the center of the universe to us, a lot of other places are also really looking at the barrel of the shotgun, if you will. All the island nations that are going to be underwater quicker than others,” said Levine Cava, who was at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly referred to as COP26, earlier this month.

“But I felt there was a real solidarity. What I felt about this was unity across the globe, recognizing that we all share this planet. There is no Planet B and we all have to work together to get it right," she said.

Beyond the environment, she added that her priorities for her second year as mayor are equity and the economy.

“The housing market is is something that is really our Achilles heel,” she said. “We have to work really, really hard so that people can afford to live here.”

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava
Daniella Levine Cava

Holiday etiquette

It’s that time of year when we come together as a family to be thankful for all we have.

But, like any family gathering, uncomfortable conversations are going to happen. Politics, religion, COVID-19 are all topics that might not be the best to discuss over a holiday meal, but they do come up.

“The first advice is, try to avoid those topics, but if you can't avoid them, then find something in common, if at all possible. So we always have some aspect of our point of view that we can agree on and knowledge,” said Yvonne Salas, the director of Etiqueta Excellence Manners school in South Florida. “Remember that we are celebrating Thanksgiving, which is gratitude and it's acceptance. And so we have to put it into practice.”

She added that it’s important to acknowledge other people’s concerns before you disagree because it’s a way of showing respect.

It’s also important for the host to set ground rules before the gathering and for the guests to be clear on what the expectations are.

“Before the pandemic, we would try and always make sure that our guests knew, for instance, about our dress codes, what we expected them to wear to our party. Now we have to be very clear and upfront on how we expect them to behave at our gathering,” said Salas. “So when you invite somebody, be clear, ‘I am going to be wearing a mask. I would appreciate it if you also wear it. If you don't feel comfortable wearing a mask, please let me know now, I can understand. But we will be wearing masks at the house.’”

Being clear before the gathering can also prevent awkward or unpleasant moments.

Holiday etiquette
Some people just aren't into the big Thanksgiving Day extravaganza.

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Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.
Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, currently leads the WLRN Newsroom as Interim Managing Editor. Prior to transitioning to leadership from production, Caitie reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.