By Lori Leath Smith
Anyone can be a Hometown Hero when they help those in need in our community. As always during the holiday season, there is an ongoing need for giving or volunteering. Many children don’t have enough food to eat over a weekend, much less over Thanksgiving or Christmas. Some just want Santa to visit them. Some have no beds or gifts. Many homeless go without a warm meal all year long.
Okaloosa County has a food insecurity rate of 12.3 percent among children younger than 18 (source: Feeding America), slightly lower than last year, but still too high. Though many families in our area are struggling to get by, we can bless them with an extra boost this holiday season. Fortunately, we are a generous and compassionate community thatn. pulls together for its own.
Crop Drop, the event that kicks off the “giving” for the Thanksgiving season, is celebrating 15 years of helping those in our community and surrounding areas. Happening November 18, 7:45 a.m. at Destin Methodist Church, Crop Drop volunteers parse more than 110,000 pounds of produce into family-size bags that are then loaded into the backs of agency vehicles to be transported to food pantries, homeless shelters and church dispensaries across the panhandle. Crop Drop has provided thousands of pounds of produce that benefit more than 50 organizations throughout Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties which feed more than 6,000 families in need. If you or your business would like to sponsor, email email@example.com or (850) 586-0585. To volunteer, visit cropdrop.net or the Facebook page at Facebook.com/CropDropDestin.
For over 35 years, Harvest House Destin has served the community. This year, Harvest House will be providing Thanksgiving Bag food items for an all-inclusive holiday meal to cook at home. Any families in the Destin, Sandestin and Mack Bayou areas in need of a holiday meal can contact Harvest House Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-Noon by calling (850) 837-2777, or stopping into their location at 300 Mountain Dr. to place an order. Families will be able to pick up their meals on Tuesday, November 21, at the food pantry. If you’d like to donate, please see a list of food items and necessities on the website: harvesthousedestin.org. To volunteer, call (850) 837-2777.
It’s that time of year for The Salvation Army. Ready to help you help others with its popular Angel Trees, Angels (children 0-12 years old) are available for adoption beginning November 18th at all the Walmart Stores in Okaloosa and Walton Counties as well as Bass Pro Shop Destin, Ashley Home Furniture Crestview and Ft. Walton, AJ’s on the Bayou in Fort Walton Beach and Chick-fil-a Niceville. Simply pick a tag off a tree and return your Angel’s gifts to any of the above locations or drop off at the Thrift Store, 425 Mary Esther Cutoff, Fort Walton Beach, by December 9th. If your business would like to adopt some Angels, please call Laura Beeman, (850) 243-4531 x20.
Have you ever had to sleep without a bed? Some in our community do. Why not put some sparkle into a child’s holiday this year? A Bed 4 Me invites you to help provide beds for children in Okaloosa and Walton counties this season. $10-$25 Walmart gift cards can purchase pillows, bedding go towards the purchase of a bed. $300 sponsors a full bed kit and helps with operational expenses. A Bed 4 Me has provided beds to thousands of children in our community since 2016. To help, visit abed4me.org where you can donate in any amount.
Do you ride? Then rev up your engine for a child at the 44th Annual Toys 4 Tots Ride on the Emerald Coast, Sunday, Nov. 19. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m. at Emerald Coast Harley Davidson parking lot. Kickstands up at 11 a.m. With a goal of 500 participants, join this escorted ride to benefit local children this holiday season through Children In Crisis and the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center. $10 registration fee and new toy or gift card donation. The ride ends at the Mullet Festival Fairgrounds with bike games, bike decorating contest, 50/50 raffle, music and food trucks. All motorcycles are welcome.
Food For Thought (FFT) provides year-round programs to bridge the meal gap in the lives of the food-insecure children they serve, but it’s especially needed during the holidays. You can help by sponsoring a family for the holidays. Food for Thought will provide holiday services during Thanksgiving and Christmas school holiday breaks, feeding over 700 families during each holiday, and distributing 30,000 pantry staples and more than 11,000 lbs. of produce. Families supported by Food for Thought programs throughout Okaloosa and Walton Counties will be provided food to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal along with food to support their students’ needs while they are out of school for a week, which is about 10 meals they will miss. To enroll, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To volunteer or donate, please visit www.fftfl.org.
At Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC), 1,585 kids were assisted in 2022. This giving season, you can make a child’s Christmas by helping to stock ECCAC’s toy room for families and agency partners to “shop!” Purchase items from ECCAC “wish lists” or shop for items yourself. Contact Hailey@eccac.org to schedule your drop-off and drop off at one of ECCAC’s locations: Niceville Chamber Office, 1055 John Sims Pkwy E, Niceville or Pierce Family ECCAC, 336 College Ave, DeFuniak Springs. eccac.org.
Each year this season, leadership students from Fort Walton Beach High School (FWBHS) become “heroes” for many parents in our community who have no way to provide a joyful Christmas for their children—10 days of meals, holiday gifts and any other necessities such as utilities and maintenance for families in Okaloosa County. In December, students shop at Walmart to select gifts such as bikes for the children. Donations are also spent on necessities such as bread, butter, milk, eggs and turkeys and even family bills. Through Christmas Connection, you can join these amazing hometown heroes by making a monetary donation for gifts and bills or contributing canned goods and boxed food. $100 provides a holiday package for one child. Simply send your check to FWBHS with “Christmas Connection” written in the memo section. A tax receipt by request can be provided.
Fatboy’s and Holi Indian Restaurant has launched a month-long non-perishable food drive spanning all of its locations, benefitting different local hunger relief organizations throughout the area. The campaign runs now through December 23, 2023. Fatboy’s Miramar Beach and Destin locations as well as Holi’s Miramar Beach location will support Destin Harvest. Patrons are invited to participate in Fatboy’s efforts this holiday season by bringing nonperishable and canned food items to receive 20% off their meal. To make the donation process as convenient as possible, labeled boxes will be placed in each Fatboy’s location for the collection of donated items.