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Food drives bring nutrition, health checks and fun to South Florida

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Photo by Joshua Ceballos
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Farm Share volunteer Terry Smith dances along to music while passing out bags of bread to families in Liberty City.

For volunteers like Terry Smith, a food distribution event is a fun occasion.

While families lined up down the block in Liberty City one weekday morning to receive free meals, Smith, who goes by “Terry the Terrible,” danced to the music blaring from a nearby speaker, and cracked smiles visible through his face-mask.

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“I like feeding folks. People always fed me when I was little, so now I feed them cuz I can’t eat it all myself,” Smith told WLRN.

Smith is one of several volunteers working with Farm Share, a Florida nonprofit that sponsors food pantries throughout the state and hosts food distributions in partnership with other organizations.

Last week, Farm Share partnered with the City of Miami near Liberty Square to pass out chicken, bread and fresh fruits and vegetables to 500 families to last them through the holidays.

Gil Zepeda, marketing director for Farm Share, said that many families depend on the extra meals food banks provide while their children are out of school on break.

“Parents always depend on the free breakfast and the free lunches that are available for them in school. And so, unfortunately, when these children get out of school, they're not supplemented by that,” Zepeda explains.

“And so we have to do what we can as a community to make sure these children are being fed and they're being taken care of.”

According to 2020 data from Feeding America, 10.8% of Miami-Dade County’s population is “food insecure.” This means that more than one in every ten people has a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Farm Share hosts food distributions around South Florida throughout the year, where families who may be experiencing food insecurity can get enough meals to last at least five days — depending on family size — free of charge and without a need to qualify.

"We have to do what we can as a community to make sure these children are being fed and they're being taken care of."

But nutritional needs aren’t the only ones being met at local food drives.

Zepeda explained that Farm Share also partners with a health sponsor at their events so families coming to get fed can also get a free health screening.

While operating in Miami, Farm Share partners with Empower U Community Health Center, a medical provider in West Little River that offers healthcare for free or on a sliding fee scale.

“We're here today at this Farm Share in Liberty Square providing health screening and HIV and STD screening for the public free of charge,” said Glenn Stepherson, an employee with Empower U at the food distribution.

Empower U is a frequent partner with Farm Share, and brings a mobile screening bus to food drives in Miami. For Stepherson, the work he does has a personal motivation.

“My younger sister died as a result of HIV and AIDS. My goal is to try to save someone else, to keep them from going through what my sister [went] through because of the stigma around the virus,” Stepherson said.

Farm Share will host more food distributions in South Florida in the new year.

For more information on distributions, you can visit their social media pages and their online calendar of events. They also have an interactive online map of food pantries that are open throughout the weekend for those in need.