SOS has seven refrigerated vans and trucks that visit local grocers and businesses for food recovery, such as this one at St. Justin.

SOS has seven refrigerated vans and trucks that visit local grocers and businesses for food recovery, such as this one at St. Justin.

Growth and development in the Florida Keys have been the subjects of many conversations. One of the impacts is a continuing issue with affordability for those who work in the Keys.

As housing and other costs increase, “life in paradise” poses financial difficulty for approximately half of Monroe County residents. Individuals and families who are in the “working poor” category are especially affected.

This is not a new problem and in 2006, concerned individuals in Key West began The Star of the Sea Outreach Mission with St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church. The traditional food pantry couldn’t keep up with the need and in 2007, the non-profit Star of the Sea Foundation (SOS) was established instead to bring relief while simultaneously reducing “food waste”.

Stores and restaurants are all too familiar with the juggling required to have adequate provisions on hand and yet minimize overages that might not be sold/used.

Farmers, too, face crop yields that might not make it to a buyer. The SOS website explains the service they provide to these businesses. “40% of the food in the United States never reaches the dinner table and enters the waste stream to decompose.

Utilizing food that would otherwise be wasted is the most efficient way to address the epidemic of hunger facing our community.

Since 2006, the Star of the Sea Foundation has been recovering perfectly edible food from South Florida Farmers as well as local businesses and groceries, and redirecting it to our neighbors' dinner tables, resulting in over 3 million pounds of food to be utilized. Any food that can't be recovered for human consumption is given to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office Animal Farm for animal feed or composted at the Callahan Community Kitchen.”

They have successfully expanded their reach during the decade-and-a-half of operations with the, “client-choice food pantry” approach.

“Client-choice food pantries allow clients to select their own foods, enabling them to choose items they can actually utilize, that are culturally relevant, and sensitive to different dietary restrictions. This results in more satisfied clients and significant reduction in food waste. As one of the largest pantries in South Florida, SOS currently distributes fresh produce, meats, dairy products, breads, and canned goods to over 10,000 unduplicated individuals each year as well as 35 different agencies that serve children, veterans, seniors, and the homeless across Monroe County. Utilizing primarily volunteer support, SOS distributes 2,000,000 pounds of food annually to these underserved populations. As nutrition and healthy eating are both key focuses of our organization, more than 50% of the food we distribute is fresh produce.”

Although based in Key West, they cover the entire county and in 2014, they opened a weekly food pantry at St. Justin the Martyr Church in Key Largo at 105500 Overseas Hwy. It’s open from 2:00-5:00 p.m., on Mondays to any resident who need show only proof of address and household size.

In partnering with multiple federal programs, having members of AmeriCorps VISTA join has been of great value. (The Volunteers In Service To America is a national service organization.) Lisa Niederman, Director of Operations and Development gave an example of their support. “One of our VISTA's, Emily Hopkins, oversees our Key Largo pantry operations and leads nutrition education classes at the Upper Keys YMCA where she is also establishing a community garden!”

Niederman elaborated on their primary message. “SOS believes all people, regardless of race, age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, migratory status, and socioeconomic background deserve access to healthy food. Our operations– our two food pantries, community kitchen prepared meals programs, and nutrition education outreach – are all efforts towards one common goal: to make healthier food and knowledgeable accessible for all, in order to foster a healthier community.”

Donations are of course always welcome and, “Also, from November 3-12 we are conducting our annual virtual fundraiser, All Hands On Deck! It's a raffle-style event where participants can donate for the chance to win a variety of exciting prizes including gift baskets, luxurious hotel stays, gift cards to delicious local restaurants, water excursions, private dinners, a grand prize Aruba vacation, and much more! Entries range from $5-30! All proceeds will go towards hunger relief in Monroe County. Visit our website to enter and learn more!”

Additional contacts are Tel: (305) 292-3013, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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