With all the economic uncertainty brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wellington has partnered with Feeding South Florida to make sure that village residents and many other Palm Beach County neighbors don’t go hungry.
Thanks to leadership from the Village of Wellington, people who are having financial difficulty buying food for themselves and their families are now receiving a helping hand. What’s great is that the price tag for the food is very affordable: it’s free.
Every Tuesday morning from 9 to 11 a.m., fresh produce and perishable food items are being distributed to those in need at the Mall at Wellington Green, in the former Nordstrom parking lot between Dillard’s and Macy’s. This local effort is being conducted in conjunction with Feeding South Florida, the largest food bank serving Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
According to Assistant Director of Parks & Recreation Michelle Garvey, this Wellington effort is a response to the current COVID-19 crisis, which has impacted the ability of many families to buy food and feed themselves on a steady basis. Garvey is in charge of implementing this particular local program for the Village of Wellington.
“This effort is so worth it,” she said. “We are simply trying to help community members get back on their feet.”
In the early days of the pandemic, Wellington staged food giveaways at sites such as Village Park and the Wellington Community Center. The Wellington Green site was put into operation in early May and is continuing every Tuesday until further notice. It is one of a number of area food sites offered with help from Feeding South Florida. Others are in Boynton Beach, Lake Worth Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Royal Palm Beach and West Palm Beach.
This weekly charitable effort in Wellington requires a small army to make it happen. According to Community Services Manager Jenifer Brito, 35 employees from the Village of Wellington and 20 to 25 local volunteers show up every Tuesday morning to distribute the food — rain or shine.
The crew from the Village of Wellington comes from many of its divisions, such as parks and recreation, public works, community services and aquatics. One person who has been present every week is Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig.
“Mayor Gerwig is leading by example,” Garvey said. “The other members of the Wellington Village Council have been there, as well.”
Local volunteers have come from several community organizations, such as the Rotary Club of Wellington and the Crowned Pearls of Wellington. There’s also a small contingent of deputies from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office in attendance every Tuesday morning to help maintain order and safety.
In accordance with the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), those who are distributing the food are wearing masks and gloves, which are supplied by the Village of Wellington. If it rains, ponchos are provided by the village. The food is placed into vehicles by the volunteers.
This weekly effort starts at dawn on the day of distribution. Each Tuesday morning, two big semi-trucks containing the food from Feeding South Florida arrive at approximately 6:30 a.m. at the Mall at Wellington Green. Wellington staff and volunteers are on-site by 7 a.m. The food is distributed starting at 9 a.m.
According to Brito, cars start arriving at the parking lot as early as 4:30 a.m. Before a box of food is placed in a car, one of the people in each car fills out a voucher form, which indicates their level of need.
As many as 900 vouchers are processed each Tuesday.
“If a family has more mouths to feed, then it gets more food,” Brito said. “The whole process is a big operation.”
The type of food being distributed includes items such as chicken, fish, turkey, milk, eggs, shredded cheese, apples, oranges, bananas, salad kits and a wide variety of fresh vegetables.
The distribution of the food is being done in accordance with guidelines from the CDC. A key part of this process is that recipients of the donated food must stay in their vehicles with either their trunk or a window open. After a completed voucher is approved, a basket of food is then being placed in the vehicle.
The food is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. To help expedite the food distribution process, there are four lanes of traffic for the cars, which helps move the process along quickly and efficiently.
The level of appreciation by the recipients of the food is quite sincere.
“Since people can’t shake your hand to say thanks, many have made signs which are on display in their cars that say thank you,” Garvey said.
Getting the right food to the right people at the right time at the right place in the right way has been a true team effort. “Many thanks to the Mall at Wellington Green, Starwood Retail Partners, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the Rotary Club of Wellington and the Crowned Pearls of Wellington for their support,” Garvey said. “We all are working well together and making a big difference in the lives of others.”
To learn more about or support the efforts of Feeding South Florida, visit www.feedingsouthflorida.org or call (954) 518-1818, ext. 1835.