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Community partners combine to provide a one-stop social services event at Sabal Palm Elementary School

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Margie Menzel
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Second Harvest of the Big Bend loaded boxes of food into the hundreds of vehicles that lined up for the distribution

What used to be simple food distributions to needy families have now morphed into full-blown community resource fairs. Osuch happening took place place in a southwest Tallahassee neighborhood on Saturday, March 13. The line of cars formed hours before the gates opened at Sabal Palm Elementary, and it never stopped until they closed. The Junior League of Tallahassee had teamed with Second Harvest of the Big Bend on a project called Mighty Meals -- providing good, healthy food for a family of four for a week. Katie Britt-Williams is president of the Junior League of Tallahassee.

“We hope to pass out over 25-thousand meals today. And in the previous two events, starting in 2020 and 2021, we passed out over 40-thousand, cumulatively. So we’re really hoping to impact the families over spring break that really need these really nutritious meals.”

Many cars also stopped for diapers provided by Farm Share. And some came inside to a resource fair with 16 community partners, from the Big Bend Homeless Coalition to Apalachee Mental Health to Legal Services of North Florida. Terrence Watts, a community development administrator for the Florida Department of Children and Families, helped organize the fair.

“Originally, we started out focusing on housing resources, just based on the dynamics of this particular community. And then that quickly evolved to faith-based programs out here…mental health programs out here. Farm Share donated a ton of diapers. So we just made it a complete…anything that the community could need or want, we wanted to try to make that available to them here today.”

Sabal Palm Elementary is on the west side of Tallahassee, in a low-income neighborhood with a high need for affordable housing. It is Leon County’s first community partnership school. The students get health care from Florida State University Primary Health and academic support from Florida A&M University, along with other assistance. Anna-Kay Hutchison, director of the Community Partnership School at Sabal Palm, says the students get wraparound services to protect them from the barriers to their education.

“We know kids can’t learn if they’re hungry, if they don’t know where they’re going to put their head down at night…So what the community partnership school is able to do is remove those barriers so they can focus on their education.”

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Margie Menzel
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Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris

Among those who showed up to help was Shevaun Harris, Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“Our mission is to help support children and families in their time of need, making sure that they have the tools and resources to thrive, and so events like this are just so, so important. And it’s important for us to support our partners, because we can’t do it without our partners.”

The poverty rate in Leon County is presently just over 27 percent.