Food for Thought Outreach continues to grow by leaps and bounds and is in need of 100 additional volunteers to continue to carry out its mission, said founder Tiffanie Nelson.
Nelson created the organization seven years ago as a family service project that she imagined she could do at Butler Elementary School with her children who attended Butler.
"It has surpassed my wildest dreams," Nelson said. "Based on the growth of the last five years, I don't know if I can imagine it in the next five years."
The Santa Rosa Beach-based organization is currently serving 2,800 food-insecure cases in Walton and Okaloosa counties. That number is a 65 percent increase over the number served last year, and a 1,000 percent increase in five years.
Nelson attributed the increase to adding six new schools to her service area, as well as an increase in the population in South Walton and parents being offered a choice of schools.
"We have been working diligently to increase our base of volunteers to meet the needs," said Nelson. "We have met them every year, and now we're just picking up extra shifts."
Every Friday afternoon volunteers take backpacks filled with food and leave them outside classrooms for children that might not have enough or any food to eat over the weekend when not at school.
"Our goal is to provide food for when they're not in school," Nelson explained.
When she began, Nelson and her children only provided for six children.
She has expanded the organization to include a Full Circle Kitchen and garden program for high school kids to advance their training for job placement. Vegetables grown in the two gardens are for the kids to eat as well as use in food preparation.
A new partnership with the Emeril Lagasse Foundation has recently been announced that will supply a three-year grant of $125,000 to support the Full Circle Kitchen program. In the program, local chefs teach the high school students fundamental cooking skills.
"By providing life skills, education, and job placement opportunities, we will have seen these children from kindergarten through graduation and ensured they have the skills to thrive and make a lasting impact on the community," said Nelson.
The grant will support capital needs, operating expenses, and programming associated with the kitchen.
Food for Thought has been a beneficiary of the Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown for three years, an event that Lagasse is involved with.
"We're excited to be able to partner with him," Nelson said. "They expressed an interest in us and I submitted a long-term plan and their board approved. This guarantees their support for three years."
One of Food for Thoughts fundraising events, The Art of Giving, was recently held for the last time and raised $26,000.
"This was the final one because we want to transition to dinners held at the kitchen," said Nelson.
For more information about Food for Thought, including how to sponsor a student in need, visit www.fftfl.org. For more information about the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, visit www.emeril.org.