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Prosperity summit speakers on how to escape ‘tyranny of the moment,’ food insecurity

“If someone’s hungry, you can’t really re-tool them in their trade.”

After Tony Carvajal kicked off the Florida Chamber Foundation Prosperity Summit, a pair of nonprofit leaders discussed the work they’re doing to help Floridians get out of the cycle of poverty.

Capital Area Community Action Agency CEO Tim Center and Feeding Florida Executive Director Robin Safley addressed the crowd gathered Wednesday morning at the Palm Beach Convention Center.

Center’s group was created in 1965 following the implementation President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs.

The agency’s goal is to “help people in crisis when they have trouble making ends meet while assisting those in poverty who want to become independent of government assistance.”

Center described impoverished families being trapped in the “tyranny of the moment” and unable to break out. That is, he argues the piles of stresses that come with struggling to make ends meet can make it impossible for some to ever escape that cycle.

But Center says his group aims to help people overcome those burdens, and used an anecdote from his daughter to make the case.

“I make a joke about my daughter, when she was four, we asked her what she wanted for Christmas. And she said, ‘A brand new pencil.’ It was the best, cheapest Christmas ever,” Center said.

“But the next year, my wife and I asked her and she said, ‘An iPod touch.’ And in that one-year time, her horizon had opened up dramatically. So we don’t ask people when they’re in the tyranny of the moment what they need because it would be a brand new pencil, or ‘I need income to pay my bills.’ “

Center said his group instead focuses instead on the type of career or lifestyle desired by the people he works with to, as he says, “open their horizons.” The agency helps to set up a curriculum for families to set longer term goals, then helps them reach those goals.

The goal of Safley’s group, meanwhile, is feeding the needy.

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She has extensive history in government. Safley served as Director for the Division of Food, Nutrition, and Wellness under Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. She also worked as chief of staff in both the Senate and Department of Education.

“If someone’s hungry, you can’t really re-tool them in their trade,” Safley argued.

“If a child is hungry, they can’t learn. And so the more that we can stabilize some of these types of issues, I think the better that we do job development and job training. But if these underlying issues are not resolved in a pretty consistent manner, then you’re never going to get to those higher, long-term goals that individuals want.”

Safley recounted her time in the Agriculture Department working on the Summer Food Service Program. She said after doing some research, she saw the program wasn’t working as well as it could.

“I said give me all the households in Florida by address that have a child 18 years or under and who are on SNAP,” Safley recounted.

“And then what we did is we overlaid our current summer feeding sites. Immediately, you could see where there was no opportunity, where there was an aggregation of children but there was no fixed number of feeding sites.”

Safley argues that both government and private programs need to improve at meeting the needs of Floridians where they are.

“A family unit that needs food is probably having struggles with mental health. It probably has some other issues at the table. And we just really need to think about that.”

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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