Food For Thought reflects on a year with COVID

Special to Gannett
Starting in March 2020, Food For Thought shifted away from its long-established weekly backpack program to curbside food distributions.

In a year that should have been about celebrating 10 years of service to the community, Food For Thought is instead honoring a very different anniversary — one year since the start of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Students left school for spring break, and just didn’t return. Since then, we have been operating with modified programs,” said Tiffanie Nelson, founder/CEO of Food For Thought. “We were serving 3,300 students each week before schools closed and we needed to change direction quickly. Thankfully, we had the experience with curbside through our summer services. We made some adjustments and started within a week of school closures.”

Curbside services ensured the organization could continue to provide access to food to the children they serve while schools were closed and students were learning from home. Food For Thought increased the quantity of food to up to 50 full-size food items a week provided to each family as the economic impacts of COVID persisted. Distribution of fresh produce during this time more than doubled as families continued to struggle to make room in their budgets for fruits and vegetables. 

In the past year, the Food For Thought team hosted 130 curbside food distributions and distributed more than 120,000 food items along with an additional 28,000 fresh produce items.

For nine months, the local nonprofit offered weekly curbside food distribution points across five locations in Walton and Okaloosa counties and at its peak, Food For Thought was serving 600 families a month. 

Now, the organization is slowly, but confidently, returning to its backpack program.

As of January, Food For Thought has returned direct-to-student weekly delivery in 20 out of 35 schools, while continuing curbside in the communities where they cannot enter schools and for students who have continued virtual learning. More than 1,800 bags are being distributed weekly through the backpack program and the organization is continuing to serve 280 families a month through curbside services in addition to the weekly backpacks. As of March 2021, the organization is distributing more than 25,000 food and produce items every week with both programs.

“Food insecurity numbers are still on the rise,” Nelson said. “We were already in a state of emergency in our area in terms of child hunger, the pandemic just amplified it. One in three kids in Okaloosa and Walton counties don’t have enough food to get through the week. That’s a 65% increase from 2018.”

To support their efforts, those interested can join their latest campaign, the $50 For 50 fundraiser. $50 will provide food services for a food insecure child for the last 10 weeks — or 50 days — of school. Donors can text FFT50 to 44321 to give or visit to donate online and learn more. 

If you or someone you know is in need of support from Food For Thought, you can get information about food services by emailing, or calling 850-714-1960.