“As a food retailer, we have the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Publix CEO Todd Jones.
“In this time of uncertainty, we are grateful to be able to help Florida’s produce farmers, southeastern dairies and families in our communities.”
The initiative tackles two problems at once.
According to a new report produced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 2020 crop losses may have already surpassed $500 million this year.
The massive losses aren’t being pinned on greening, fungus, root-rot or other blight. COVID-19 is the culprit.
Florida farms rely on the food service industry to move much of their product. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the state, restaurant dining rooms were ordered to close leading demand to crater overnight.
In some cases, crops have been left to spoil in the fields.
Simultaneously, the pandemic’s assault on the economy has led to massive job losses, causing the state’s unemployment benefits system to crumble.
As a result, food banks have become a lifeline for an unprecedented number of people, many of whom are visiting them for the first time.
Feeding America estimates 17.1 million additional people will experience food insecurity due to school closures and rising unemployment.
“As we respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Publix understands that more families are turning to us to help put food, especially fresh produce and milk, on their tables,” said Feeding South Florida President & CEO Paco Velez. “We’re grateful to Publix for not only supporting growers, but also for their years of support of Feeding South Florida.”
Publix’s plan received widespread praise from the ag industry.
“We are thrilled about Publix’s initiative to buy additional milk from Southeast Milk for processing and donation to Feeding America member food banks,” Southeast Milk Inc. President Joe Wright said. “It’s a win-win for our farmers who are feeling the impact of decreased demand and the families who are in need of nutrient rich milk during this pandemic.”
Pero Family Farms Food Co. CEO Peter Pero IV added, “Like so many others right now, Florida farmers are in a time of need. We are humbled Publix is purchasing additional fresh vegetables from us and other local farms to donate to food banks throughout the Southeast.
“Thank you to Publix, the participating food banks and their volunteers for making this initiative possible for those less fortunate while supporting local farms.”
Publix said the initiative will be rolled out across its operating area — the Lakeland-based grocer has 1,242 stores across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
Wednesday’s announcement wasn’t Publix’s first coronavirus-related move. The chain recently donated a combined $2 million to food banks in Feeding America’s network.
Much of that money will benefit food banks in Publix’s home state. The company’s latest round of donations saw $530,000 head to Florida food banks.