Rep. Chris Latvala secured a new location to distribute food Friday to families in need after the original event was canceled amid a scheduling snafu with the Clearwater Free Clinic.
The new location will be at the Clearwater YMCA at 1005 S. Highland Ave. from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The event will offer a drive-thru food pantry to those in need. No ID, paperwork or pre-screening is necessary. Volunteers will load food boxes directly into visitors’ vehicles to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
The new event is sponsored by Feeding Tampa Bay who came through at the last minute to provide pre-Thanksgiving meals to families after the previously scheduled event was canceled.
The previous food distribution event was scheduled for Friday at the Clearwater Free Clinic, but paperwork issues related to permission to use the property led to its cancellation.
Latvala planned a Farm Share event Friday at the Clearwater Free Clinic. The events provide meals to families in need. Latvala has been hosting Farm Share events the Friday before Thanksgiving since he was first elected in 2014. Before that his father, former Sen. Jack Latvala, also carried out the tradition.
Latvala said the Clearwater Free Clinic required insurance documentation for the event. They asked to receive it by 9 a.m. Thursday.
“My office was told at 4 p.m. yesterday if they did not have it by 9 a.m. today they would cancel it,” Latvala wrote on Facebook lamenting the non-profit organization’s decision to cancel the event.
Latvala told Florida Politics the insurance certification could only be obtained directly from Farm Share and that his staff immediately got to work on obtaining it. He provided Florida Politics with the email to Clearwater Free Clinic Director of Operations Diane Morse with the insurance certification. Its time stamp was 9:14 a.m.
“Hundreds of folks in Clearwater will not get a weekend’s worth of food tomorrow because some woman named Diane got her precious email 14 minutes late,” Latvala said.
Clearwater Free Clinic CEO Jeannie Shapiro said the cancellation was not made because a document was provided 14 minutes late. The insurance information provided was not complete and not adequate to receive authorization from the condo association that controls the clinic’s property. The clinic, she said, simply ran out of time to provide the necessary paperwork to facilitate the event.
“We believe strongly in the importance of the Farm Share program. In the future, with ample time to prepare, we would like to collaborate in food security efforts for the underserved population that we serve every day,” Shapiro said.
Asked whether he could relocate the event, Latvala initially said it was too late. His office already had to cancel with Farm Share and informed volunteers the event was off. There wasn’t enough time, he said, to identify a new site. Later in the day he was able to secure an event through Feeding Tampa Bay.
Latvala’s office had originally been planning to host the event in the High Point area of Clearwater where there is a high concentration of people in poverty who would benefit from the event. However, because of Farm Share’s policies related to COVID-19 protections, the events now require food recipients to stay in their vehicles when picking up the food boxes. There was only one place, High Point Elementary, that could accommodate that many cars, but that wasn’t an option because school is in session on Friday.
He instead began working with the Free Clinic to use their facilities.
Latvala said he spoke with Morse in an attempt to maintain the food distribution event, but was told it was too late.
“She didn’t even bother reading (the email) until she said it was canceled. She opened it while I was on the phone with her,” Latvala said.
On Facebook, Latvala wrote that Morse should “work on her people skills.”
Comments quickly rolled in decrying the Free Clinic’s cancellation.
“That is disgusting,” wrote Bill Helmich, a lobbyist in Tallahassee.
Another commenter wrote that Morse had “apparently forgot their mission,” referring to the Free Clinic.
That mission is to “deliver comprehensive medical care to uninsured families through volunteerism and community partnerships.”