Residents in and around Gulfport who want to help the needy with food have new ways to do so. The same goes for those who themselves are in need.
A few years ago, Gulfport officials erected a tiny food pantry in front of the fire station and another in front of the library. It was an idea inspired by a desire to lend a hand to one or more needy individuals in the community who had few if any other options. The Senior Center distributes food, but it can only go to recipients in the senior age category.
But for the past few months, there have been reports of misuse at those locations. Specifically, so-called donors are leaving perishable items that quickly become rotten or stale. Some of the people who leave these items may be well-meaning, but in any event it often creates a mess and helps no one.
This has been a topic of conversation at multiple Gulfport City Council meetings over the past two months. After both council members and citizens aired their concerns, it became apparent that the City would have to take action.
City Manager Jim O’Reilly confirmed in a recent email to The Gabber Newspaper that both the food pantries located on City property would get removed June 1. A week before that date, both sites had signage posted advising residents of the local resources available.
“We put together a list of services that are available to people,” said Justin Shea, the City’s cultural facilities events supervisor. “The QR code links to the city’s website, and on that page we list the food pantry locations in the area and other resources people can use to find food in the community.”
One of the resources on that site (mygulfport.us/help) links to a site that lists food pantry locations by state, then by city. There are no Gulfport listings on that site. However, there are more than a dozen in St. Petersburg and some others in neighboring cities.
Two eateries on opposite sides of Gulfport – Funky Flamingo and Jax In and Out – have created their own food pantries. Officials in recent City Council meetings mentioned both establishments as viable options for those who need such services.
“It’s just a big variety of food,” said Jax Taylor of Jax In and Out. “We try to put together enough for meals.”
Both locations have put their pantries together on their own without any contributions from large organizations.
“Just everyday people,” said Anita McLaughlin of Funky Flamingo when asked who the food donors are. “Our customers bring stuff in. We had a food drive and that brought in a lot. We are taking cash donations, too, because with that I can buy our produce at cost and have it out there as well.”
Taylor said a considerable portion of the profits from her restaurant have filled her food pantry.
Both eateries welcome donations of food as well as cash so they can keep helping whomever needs it.
“We just ask how many people are in the family and whether they have any food restrictions,” said Taylor. “I don’t ask about their financial situations, I don’t care what kind of car they drive. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that they are fed.”