Recently elected state Rep. Allison Tant and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services partnered Tuesday with the Grace Mission Episcopal Church to provide Thanksgiving meals to those in need in Tallahassee.
Tant, a Tallahassee Democrat elected to her first term in the Florida House this month, and Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Deborah Tannenbaum prepared more than 250 meals together with volunteers two blocks from the Governor’s Mansion. Volunteers delivered most of those meals to the Kearney Center, which provides temporary housing for homeless people in Tallahassee, but dozens of guests came in-person to enjoy their Thanksgiving lunch on-site or to take away.
In normal years, the church has invited guests inside for a buffet-style meal at tables indoors. Amid the pandemic, however, Grace Mission set up four outdoor tables and provided the meals in takeout containers to give options to those who visited for food.
Several volunteer facilities are still closed to the public, including Grace Mission, and the Rev. Amanda Nickles said she doesn’t feel safe reopening until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’m not willing to jeopardize anybody’s health just to open up,” she added.
Some of those they served Tuesday were some of “Tallahassee’s most overlooked, frankly invisible, deliberately ignored citizens,” Tant said.
Her mother grew up at the height of the Great Depression with seven siblings. Recalling her late mother’s childhood, she called hosting the meals program during the pandemic critically important.
“That’s what drives me to be here is the fact that even one meal would have made a difference for her and her siblings and carried them over for a couple of days,” Tant said.
The pandemic has put new people in need, some of them might have pride and not want to stand in a food line, she added.
Tannenbaum distributed food on behalf of Commissioner Nikki Fried. Giving back is one of Commissioner Fried’s priorities, Tannenbaum told reporters.
“It’s heartwarming this time of year to be able to do this on behalf of the Commissioner,” she said. “We come together in times of crisis, and that’s what communities are all about, and that’s what we ensure that we do in reaching out to people across the state.”
In addition to meals, Grace Mission offered flu shots and free masks to those in need.
The family-style meals Grace Mission usually hosts may have disappeared during the pandemic, but Nickles stressed the importance of relationships, to God and each other, as part of being a Christian.
“That’s what Christ was all about, is building relationships,” she said. “What did he do? He gathered people and he ate with them, heal them, sharing his word with them, so that’s what we do here at Grace Mission as well.”
Jason Preston, a 20-year Tallahassee resident, picked up lunch on his break from a nearby hotel. As a hospitality worker, he said he appreciated the meal service as “great for the surrounding community.”
For Preston’s family, the biggest change the pandemic brought was having to send his children to daycare.
Florida saw 77,000 unemployment claims last week because of the pandemic. The cost of the impact on workers in Florida and compensating those who have lost jobs continues to skyrocket. The pandemic assistance for workers in the state has now amassed a price tag of $18.77 billion.
Federal stimulus dollars aren’t lined up and people’s need for assistance will continue to worsen, Tant warned.
“This is not going to go away,” she said. “This is going to increase, and it’s on all of us to reach a hand of friendship and giving to the people around us.”