Pinellas County looking to improve food access as more families grapple with hunger during pandemic

Community leaders considering Food Policy Council
Posted at 5:42 AM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 08:51:05-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Community leaders, in both Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg, are taking steps to help the growing number of families facing hunger due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City of St. Petersburg is expected to discuss the creation of a Food Policy Council alongside the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete. Community leaders will also have a discussion on food insecurity in St. Petersburg and what can be done to expand healthy food options, especially in food deserts.

Across the country, Food Policy Councils examine how the local food system operates and provide policy recommendations to improve that system. These groups also support the development and expansion of locally-produced foods.

Those with the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete now say people in St. Pete are having health issues because of racial and health inequities in the community-based food system. They are helping lead the charge on changing that, citing a number of troubling problems to county leaders.

Currently, 134,650 people don't have enough to eat in Pinellas County. That is a little more than 14% of the population, according to Feeding Tampa Bay.

Also, nearly 25% of Pinellas County Community Health Needs Assessment survey respondents had no place to go for food when money was tight, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Additionally, many Pinellas County families just don't have access to healthy food. More than 30% of Pinellas County residents are living more than one mile from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store in an urban area, according to a USDA assessment.

These discussions about how to get healthy food to families in need come as non-profits are increasingly strapped for resources since the start of the pandemic.

Prior to the start of COVID-19 layoffs, volunteers with the St. Petersburg Free Clinic were seeing an average of 150 families each day. Now, volunteers see an average of more than 300 families each day, according to Shaina Bent, chief operations officer.

More troubling, nearly 70% of those families have lost a job or have been negatively impacted by furloughs or layoffs, Bent said. Additionally, a quarter of those families are brand new to seeking services with the clinic.

"It's a population that we knew was out there," Bent said. "That population, where they were one paycheck away and they were just barely making ends meet. Then when the pandemic hit, we really saw the real need come through."

If you need services or are able to donate or volunteer, please visit the St. Petersburg Free Clinic's Facebook Page.