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Publix Buys From Fla. Farmers, Donates To Food Banks, Including In Jacksonville

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FEEDING NORTHEAST FLORIDA
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A Feeding Northeast FLorida team is pictured distributing meals in front of Bellwether in Downtown Jacksonville.

The first truck load of milk produced by Florida dairy farmers is due to arrive at a Jacksonville food bank Friday, as part of a new Publix donation program.

Feeding Northeast Florida CEO Susan King said, “I checked with our inventory people. We have not had milk, or really any dairy whatsoever, since early in March. So this will be a wonderful treat at a great time."

Lakeland-based Publix is making the donations to Feeding America member food banks in its operating areas to support Florida produce and dairy farmers. A truck with 26 pallets of fresh produce arrived in Jacksonville from the program on Wednesday.

The food will be distributed to nearly 100 agency partners in Northeast Florida, King said.

“We do either mobile pantries or the agencies will pick up and distribute themselves,” said King. “Generally speaking, they are doing drive-through lines or by appointment only.”

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

An estimated 17.1 million additional people will experience food insecurity due to school closures and rising unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Feeding America.

King said before the pandemic hit, Feeding Northeast Florida was moving approximately 50,000 pounds of food a day. Now that number is up to between 75,000 and 85,000 pounds a day.

With schools, restaurants and hotels closed, some farmers have been forced to let unsold milk and produce go to waste.

NPR reported that in Florida, vegetable growers have been abandoning harvest-ready fields of tomatoes, yellow squash and cucumbers due to the lack of business.

"We cannot pick the produce if we cannot sell it, because we cannot afford the payroll every week," said Kim Jamerson, a vegetable grower near Fort Myers.

Publix’s initiative is expected to run for several weeks.

“Like so many others right now, Florida farmers are in a time of need. We are humbled Publix is purchasing additional fresh vegetables from us and other local farms to donate to food banks throughout the Southeast,” Pero Family Farms Food Co. CEO Peter F. Pero IV said in a statement.

Feeding Northeast Florida has partnered with grocery stores, manufacturers, and farms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

King said even once the pandemic is behind us, she expects the greater need to continue based on what she saw during the Great Recession.

“Sadly, I can predict a bit based on experience from 2008, 2009, and the demand that we saw for services. During that time, I was at an agency in 2011, and we still saw an increased need for food assistance, because the financial ramifications of this will last for a long time.”

Publix Super Markets Charities has made donations totaling $2 million to support Feeding America member food banks during the pandemic, according to the company.

“We have been just extraordinarily blessed by the outpouring of support from the community,” King said.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Bill joined WJCT News in September of 2017 from The Florida Times-Union, where he served in a variety of multimedia journalism positions.