Cheerful Homestead Outreach Team volunteers smile after putting together another large group of meal packs  to be delivered.

Cheerful Homestead Outreach Team volunteers smile after putting together another large group of meal packs to be delivered.

Those familiar with the demographics of Homestead are aware “food security” is not a new issue. Wide-spread business closures and subsequent massive unemployment due to the COVID-19 crisis have exacerbated the problem to a degree no one would have thought possible a mere three months ago. Firmly-established organizations such as Farm Share, Inc, the Homestead Soup Kitchen, and others have been highlighted in the past with their efforts to routinely feed families and the Homestead Outreach Team (H.O.T) has been added to the list. Their story actually began months ago.

Although Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) has a major meal program during the week and established distributions for summers, members of the community realized there was a “gap” on the weekends/holidays for many students. A grassroots movement emerged to help address this need. A group of teens encouraged and supported by concerned adults, like Nancy Garcia, well-known for her community involvement, came together to create their mission statement. “We are a team of students that have chosen to volunteer our time for no benefit other than to serve our community of Homestead, Florida. We care for and change lives for the better while putting others before ourselves when possible. We treat our fellow teammates with respect, love, kindness, gratitude, and above all else, the same way we want to be treated. Our four target areas to assist are the hungry, children with severe medical needs, animals in need and the military. However, we are willing and prepared to serve anyone in need at a moment’s notice. We are the H.O.T.” They also took the necessary steps and were recently officially designated as a non-profit, 501(c)(3).

H.O.T.’s main emphasis has been assisting the hungry and they have been providing literally tons of “food packs” in response. Packs usually contain pasta or rice, canned protein, canned soup, canned fruits, chili, spaghetti sauce, and often Mac and Cheese, as well as boxed cereals. With ramped-up efforts due to COVID-19, they’ve been distributing approximately 1,000 bags per week. They currently partner with multiple organizations such as, This is For The Kids, Inc., at four distribution sites.

They are working with the Homestead Soup Kitchen, 105 SW 3rd Ave, open Mon, Wed, and Fri, 12:00-1:30 p.m. for grab and go meals. The three other sites are: The Homestead Police Athletic League facility, 600 SW 14th Ave, Mon, Wed, and Fri, 1:00-2:00 p.m.; the Youth For Christ City Life Kix, 1088 W. Mowry Dr, Homestead, Tues and Thurs, 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.; and The Movement Church, 239 W. Mowry Dr, Homestead, Tues and Thurs, 6:00-7:00 p.m.

With an added emphasize on safety, the usual teen volunteers are not on-site, but are busy working behind the scenes. They have also been including notes of encouragement in the packs, such as this one: “Think of life as an adventure, like a roller coaster. It helps with the ups and downs. Know that our Lord is always with us. From, Julia.”

In recognition of how local restaurants are struggling, Garcia came up with the idea to add, “Win-Win Vouchers”, to the program. “We have agreements with four restaurants so far,” she explained. Capri, Chefs on the Run, Mamma Mia, and Royal Palm Grill (the “new” one) are participating. Other restaurants can contact her at (786) 486-1111 to sign up.

The vouchers are for school-age children and can be picked up during any of the scheduled food distributions. A voucher is valid for approximately one week for one meal from a participating restaurant, and the set “kid-friendly meal” is determined by the restaurant. The child or parent gives the voucher to the restaurant and H.O.T. then pays the restaurant for the voucher. “We’ve had around 300 used so far,” Garcia said.

Donations to H.O.T. can be made by sending checks made to This Is For The Kids Inc, at 809 N. Flagler Ave Homestead FL 33030 or $HOTdonate Cash App PayPal homesteadoutreachteam@gmail.com

Follow Homestead Outreach Team (H.O.T) on Facebook.

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