Five faith-based county organizations have been awarded grant money from the Monroe County Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) and will divvy up $10,766.
The awardees include the Keys Area Inter-denominational Resources, Independence Cay, Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), Trinity Presbyterian Church and Big Pine United Methodist Church.
Absent from the bidding for these grant dollars this year were Samuel's House, and the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC) the two largest providers of emergency shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals and families in the Keys.
"Elmira Leto (Samuel's House CEO) and I, wanted to see these dollars go to small, grassroots, anti-hunger initiatives," said the Rev. Stephen Braddock, who serves as both EFSP chairman, and president and CEO of FKOC. "This is not a huge allocation and much more funding is needed, but this money goes a very long way to help our community-based feeding programs provide assistance to many needy individuals and families."
The EFSP was established as a national organization in 1983, operating under the auspices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The national board of EFSP allocates funds to local boards, who in turn, distribute them to organizations working with the hungry and homeless.
The current grants were awarded on Jan. 31, and should be dispersed to the winners some time this week, Braddock said.
The money needs to be spent by the end of March.
In 2010, the local EFSP had some $30,000 to work with in a single year, but the sagging economy, and its attendant budget cutbacks have taken their toll on the agency. Money is tight, but what little there is will be put to good use, Braddock said, by organizations such as MCC.
"We're going to be using that money to provide hot meals and groceries to homebound senior citizens through our Cooking with Love program," said MCC pastor, the Rev. Steve Torrence, who also wrote the $2,000 grant. "We serve about 120 hot meals each Saturday this way, as well as about 50 bags of groceries. That money will be used to meet the current needs of the program."
The volunteers of Cooking with Love deliver the meals and groceries each Saturday. The program is capped at 125 clients, who are referred to MCC by outside agencies.
"This money makes a positive difference because it enables us to continue to provide the groceries that we do," Torrence said. "We're not always able to do that."
Up the Keys, Colleen Massey, program coordinator of the Big Pine United Methodist Church Community Food Pantry, is looking forward to a long shopping trip at the local grocery store.
"We usually get food from a place on the mainland called Feeding South Florida," Massy said. "But they don't seem to have as much these days, so with this money, we're going to buy canned goods and other things that will last. It'll help a great deal."
The food pantry, which was started 17 years ago by a couple of parishioners with extra canned goods floating around their pantries, exists solely through donations from area churches, businesses and individuals, Massey said. The Big Pine Publix usually helps out with day-old breads and pastries.
"In January, we distributed 644 bags of groceries to 322 households," Massey said. "There's an average of three meals per bag, so we fed about 686 people in January. Thanks to this grant, we should be OK on food until the summer."