CRESTVIEW — Under Mayor JB Whitten’s new Feeding Families Project, the city is coordinating citywide food distributions for Crestview families feeling the crunch of COVID-19 restrictions. The first giveaway is 9 a.m. April 25, to be followed by another a week later.
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With participation from multiple city departments, county and regional organizations, the substantial undertaking perfectly embodies Crestview’s 2020 motto, “a community coming together,” Whitten said.
The mayor and city leaders are collaborating with Farm Share, a statewide food bank, plus several local churches and area nonprofits as the community unites to address the problem of recently unemployed families struggling to make ends meet.
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“I’ve been working on this at least a month,” Whitten said. “A lot of people are hurting in our city. This will help ease some of their burden by providing fresh food for their tables and allowing them to reallocate limited finances toward other pressing needs.”
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Several city departments are helping plan the food distribution. For example, Public Services Director Wayne Steele, Police Chief Stephen McCosker, Fire Chief Tony Holland and city engineers have worked out traffic routes for vehicles to queue in advance of the event’s 9 a.m. start.
Friday, Whitten and City Manager Tim Bolduc met at the Community Center for a site inspection with team leaders whose organizations will make the city’s distribution possible.
Included were representatives of the Panhandle Emergency Response Team (PERT), which is supplying drivers for trucks lent by Eventents of Fort Walton Beach; the United Way of the Emerald Coast, which is paying for truck fuel; Destin City Councilman Parker Destin, who offered his expertise garnered through coordinating large food distributions during hurricanes; and Mark Brown, president of the North Okaloosa Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which will help with on-site logistics.
“We are grateful to them for their help, their resources and expertise,” Whitten said. “We are excited to hold this event for our residents who are out of work, and we couldn’t do it without these partners.”
Participants will queue up on northbound Industrial Drive then turn onto Commerce Drive. The route, including strategic lane closures, will still allow customers who are not waiting for the food distribution to access the post office, Hancock-Whitney Bank (formerly the First Bank of Crestview), Okaloosa Ophthalmology and Eglin Federal Credit Union, all on Industrial Drive. Commerce Drive will be closed to regular traffic during the food distribution.
When the distribution begins, signage, police officers and event officials will direct drivers to either of two staging areas on the north and south sides of the Crestview Community Center by way of Commerce Drive.
After recipients’ vehicles have been loaded, they will then turn east and exit onto Farmers Street. All access to the food distribution will be from Industrial Drive.
To accommodate Gov. Ron DeSantis’s social-distancing order, food will only be provided to drive-up customers. No walk-up service will be available and recipients may not exit their vehicles. Screened, masked and gloved volunteers will load one allotment of food per vehicle.
To assure food is available for as many families waiting in line as possible, participants will not be able to pick up additional food for other households, organizers said. The food distribution begins at 9 a.m. and will continue until supplies run out.
“It is really heartwarming to see the city pull together at times like these,” Whitten said. “So many city employees in different departments as well as citizens in our area churches and community organizations are all pitching in to make this huge project work. I love it!”
Whitten said another Farm Share distribution under his Feeding Families Project, this time in collaboration with Feeding the Gulf Coast, will occur in Crestview on May 2.