Justin Gaffrey, an internationally known South Walton artist, came from humble beginnings in his career. He has always used his hands when working from painting to constructing homes and furniture and cooking, and recently has used his hands-on talents to give back to the Food For Thought organization of Santa Rosa Beach.

Food For Thought is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that provides backpacks filled with healthy, easy to prepare food for students who are dependent on free or reduced school meals. Their goal is to support a child’s development and educational experience by bridging the gap between school meals during weekends and holiday breaks. Food For Thought has been working to fight child hunger since 2010, and currently serves 23 schools in Walton and Okaloosa counties, providing backpacks for 1,700 students each week.

Food For Thought’s latest milestone has been the construction of the Full Circle Kitchen installed inside the organization’s headquarters. Classes this fall will be given by local culinary experts and nutritionists to educate participating local high school students on feeding and cooking for themselves. The Full Circle Kitchen was built and generously funded by OB Laurent Construction, Jim and Tammy Pierce and Howard Hospitality. To learn more about how you can help, email info@fftfl.org

“The Full Circle Kitchen is also a place where local chefs can give back to the children too, like Justin Gaffrey did in March,” said Tiffanie Nelson, Food For Thought’s founder and executive director. “The dinner was purchased during the Art of Giving auction in September as the first private dinner in the new Full Circle Kitchen and it was sold to Jim and Tammy Pierce and Steve and Lynn Dugas, who brought along their friends to enjoy this special occasion raising thousands of dollars for Food For Thought children’s outreach.

“Our guests were honored to be the first to enjoy a meal in our new Full Circle Kitchen and their generosity will support our work fighting child hunger. Justin prepared such an outstanding meal that our guests decided they wanted to return and bring even more friends. So on Saturday, April 1, we offered a private dinner for 20 to be held in September with Justin as chef. The seats were sold during the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown, which raised enough money to help serve 30,000 meals by Food For Thought,” said Nelson.

Gaffrey, also a furniture crafter, donated his time and materials by designing and constructing a solid oak table. The table seats 20 people and is portable to move easily on wheels for the event space at the Food For Thought headquarters. He will also donate and install a couple of large pieces of art to Food For Thought that he hopes will inspire the culinary spirit in the Full Circle Kitchen.

“I was delighted and honored to be the first chef to cook a meal for generous donors and supporters of Food For Thought,” said Gaffrey. “Anytime I can help, especially giving back using hands-on skills, brings me exuberance. The children of our community are our future leaders, teachers, chefs and artists for South Walton. Anyway I can help engage them puts a smile in my heart.”

The Full Circle Kitchen is the fifth initiative from Food For Thought to fight child hunger in our community, which also includes weekly backpacks, holiday services, monthly snack programs in each classroom and the Garden Initiative. The Food For Thought organization estimates that next school year the need will increase to 2,500 students in 27 schools.

For more information, such as donation locations, pantry items needed and opportunities to volunteer, please email info@fftfl.org.