Santa Rosa Beach non-profit Food For Thought has been blessed with $50,000, thanks to the Walmart Foundation.
Tyson Hall, the general manager of the Walmart in Santa Rosa Beach, presented the check last week to FFT Founder and Executive Director Tiffanie Nelson.
"You can tell a lot in the first 10 minutes when you walk in a place," said Hall. "What a great energy here. Each Walmart store should reflect the value of its customers' lives. Partnership with you is exactly what Sam Walton would want. I love what you're doing and for letting us be a part."
Hall said this type of community collaboration was in Walmart founder Sam Walton's original vision.
The check will help FFT provide backpacks filled with healthy, easy-to-prepare food for local students who are dependent on free or reduced school meals.
"We are so humbled by this amazing donation," said Nelson. "This will support our growth in the backpack program in the new school year as we prepare to grow our enrollment by 50 percent and add six new schools to our program. Walmart has been such a dedicated community partner, and this Walmart Foundation grant will help us continue to fight child hunger in our community."
Nelson established FFT in 2010, filling backpacks from her kitchen table after she was told that some students at her children's school did not have food to eat except when at school.
That first year, Nelson helped to provide food for six children at Butler Elementary. The next year there were 16, then 38 — then 500.
Nelson has expanded from coordinating the operation on her dining room table to a permanent home at the Food For Thought Kitchen on Market Street off County Road 393, which opened in March.
Twenty-seven percent of Walton County's children live in food insecure homes.
Every Friday, backpacks filled with food are left at classroom doors and students pick them up as they leave, ensuring they will have something to eat over the weekend.
"Our mission is to remove the negative impacts of hunger by providing them weekly access to healthy, easy-to-prepare meals," said Nelson.
The FFT Kitchen was built with donations from supporters, and Nelson will partner with local chefs and William Sonoma.
"We will be bringing in high school students and teaching them to cook, meeting them in their real-life circumstances," she said. "This expands our outreach all the way from kindergarten to graduating to job placement. This will be the first time to bring kids here for support. We teach them to cook and then they get to take home the food they prepare and their own pan. I had the vision gifted to me from the beginning."
The FFT Kitchen is located at the warehouse which can also be used for fundraisers. Fundraisers and donations are needed to feed as many children as FFT does.
FFT uses 10-20 pallets of canned food monthly, and 3,000 jars of peanut butter. Next year's budget is $600,000.
To meet the needs, Nelson applied for Walmart's grant online, and since she has grown FFT's territory she was eligible to apply for the state grant.
"We were competing with every nonprofit in the state," said Nelson "It was amazing to get the call that we are being awarded exactly what we asked for. This will go towards support in the fall."
When school starts back in the fall, she will be adding six new schools in Okaloosa and Walton counties.
Local Attorney Michelle Anchors, who is a consultant for Walmart, said she is proud of Food For Thought and Walmart for this collaboration and both turning compassion into action.
"Getting this grant is a highly competitive process," said Anchors. "There are needs all over the state. As Northwest Florida experiences growth it brings along suffering. I'm glad it also brings cooperative support."
FFT now has five ways to provide hunger relief:
Weekly backpacks during the school year for students receiving free or reduced lunches to close the gap of missed meals over the weekend
Monthly snacks provided to teachers to fight immediate signs of hunger
Holiday services to help feed families in need during long breaks from school
Garden initiatives at select schools and at the Destin Pantry
Full Circle Kitchen to help provide skills and additional sources of food to some of the most at-risk students in Okaloosa and Walton counties
As FFT continues to grow, community support is needed more than ever. The non-profit expects to grow by more than 50 percent, taking on six new schools (for a total of 29) and reach more that 2,500 students during the 2017-2018 school year.
To donate time, funds or services to FFT Outreach, email email@example.com or visit fftfl.org.