Posted: Jan 17, 2021
Key West SOS

Since 2006, no entity in Key West, neither private enterprise nor public governance, has so selflessly served the community of Key West as the Star of the Sea Foundation (SOS).  A 15 YEAR success story unmatched in Key West's recent history.  The only "We're All in This Together" commitment that is reflected in both word and deed. SOS distributes fresh produce, meats, dairy products, breads, and canned goods, donated and purchased, to over 10,000 individuals and 20 agencies that serve children, veterans, seniors, and the homeless across the whole of Monroe County. SOS trucks, stores, prepares, cooks and distributes over 2,000,000 pounds of food annually to these underserved and often voiceless populations. 

Hunger Happens Every Day

At the onset, SOS was food pantry and associated relief, servicing primarily the residents of Key West and the Lower Keys.  Natural disasters refocused food distribution needs and compelled the development of redundant channels of food re-supply, transportation and storage.  Under normal conditions, SOS distributed approximately 15 tons of food per week with short-term peaks during storms and hurricanes. Then Covid.

 

During April and May 2020, SOS served 3,000 families each week, upping the distribution of food to 40 tons per week. The food pantries in Key West and Key Largo were closed and outdoor "drive thru" distribution sites were established. The St. Justin Martyr's Pantry in Key Largo saw a 300% increase in the number of families served.  In Key West, drive thru sites were established in downtown Key West behind the Basilica of St. Mary's Star of the Sea and on Stock Island at Bernstein Park.  Hundreds of cars and trucks and mopeds and bicycles and walk-ups lined up for hours.

 

By June that rush has subsided just enough for Drive Thru's to give way to a return to the established Food Pantries.

Food Pantries

SOS has two permanent Food Pantries in the Florida Keys; at the St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church at 105500 Overseas Hwy in Key Largo, FL and in Key West at 5640 Maloney Ave., Stock Island.

 

  • St.Justin's is Open Mondays from 2 - 5pm
  • Stock Island is Open Monday and Thursday from 9:30 until 6pm. Tuesday and Wednesday are open 9:30 until 3:30pm 

 

Both locations authorize a once per week per household distribution of bags of dry non-perishable goods, fresh produce, frozen meat/chicken, and bread or dairy products, as available.  Drive, pedal or walk up and SOS volunteers will bring the food products to you.

SOS Callahan Community Kitchen

 

The SOS Callahan Community Kitchen prepares fresh meals daily for children and adults throughout the Key West community.  Meals are comprised of primarily fresh fruits and vegetables, prioritize whole wheat and 100% grains, and limit the consumption of high-sodium, high-salt snacks that are the norm for many children and adults.

 

In January 2019, SOS had a contract from Monroe County Social Services to prepare and deliver 55 meals for local seniors 5 days per week. Beginning in April 2020, SOS upped its service by delivering freshly prepared, individually plated meals three times a week to approximately 250 senior residents of the Henry Haskins Senior Citizen Plaza and the Key One Plaza residence.

 

The kitchen is located at 1020 United St., Key West and thrives under the guidance of Director Suzie Bruels.

Nutrition Education

 

The unfortunate result of most low-income food buying and eating habits is the food's marginal nutritional value. Bulky, high fat, high sugar, high salt foods that can lead to long-term health issues, reduced quality of life and a shortened life span.  Without relative education, these food habits often become multi-generational.

 

SOS AmeriCorps VISTA staff conduct nutrition education classes and interactive cooking demonstrations to teach children how to maintain and improve their health through their food choices and food preparation techniques.  SOS provides nutrition resources that are not typically available to low-income clients, like aeroponic Tower Gardens, to magnify the benefits of our healthy food choices. These efforts create a comprehensive approach to building a lifetime of purchasing, preparing, serving and eating healthy foods.

St. Peter's Fleet

 

St. Peter’s Fleet was born in April 2020. With shutdowns in effect, SOS was experiencing an enormous increase in its normal volume of hungry clients. Quality protein was becoming expensive, then scarce and then impossible to secure in large enough quantities at any price. With inflated need and uncontrollable disruptions in the food supply chain, St. Peter’s Fleet successfully addressed hunger insecurity and unemployment with a single creative solution.

 

With funds from the South Florida Workforce Investment Board, the Ocean Reef Community Foundation, and the Lovett-Woodsum Family Charitable Foundation, captains and mates earn $18 per hour in wages plus $300 per trip for fishing-related expenses. In return, St. Peter’s Fleet provided SOS with up to 300 pounds of fish per trip.  After being cleaned by Stock Island’s Fishbusterz and Marathon’s Keys Fisheries—both of which donated their services—much of this fish found its way to the SOS Callahan Community Kitchen, where it was prepared into fresh meals for senior citizens. St. Peter's Fleet concluded operations in September 2020.

Meals for Kids

 

Other than the Monroe County School District, SOS is the only caterer in Monroe County licensed to prepare meals and snacks through federal nutrition programs.  These programs provide vital nutrition for school-aged children and income-restricted senior citizens.

 

SOS prepares fresh meals daily for nearly 150 school aged children in the Lower Keys. Since school was not is session this summer, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) allowed the SOS Callahan Community Kitchen to provide nutritious meals daily. The Boys and Girls Club of Key West and the Inez Martin Child Development Center were recipients of daily breakfasts and lunches, receiving over 7,500 meals. 

 

Once school resumed, in-person and virtual, the Afterschool Meals Program (AMP) kicked in. The Boys and Girls Club continues to be open all day; therefore, SOS is providing both a fresh-prepared lunch and a mid-afternoon snack to these school children.

 

After a month of operating the AMP, the Federal government granted an extension of Summer Food Service Program and SOS reverted back to providing a 5-component meal during the mid-afternoon to the children at Key West Boys and Girls Club. The 5-component meal consists of a fruit, vegetable, whole grain, protein and milk.

Conclusion

 

The Florida Keys tourism industry sustains 26,500 jobs for Monroe County residents and accounts for over half (54%) of the County’s total workforce. The closing of US 1 into the Keys and the restrictions placed on air travel brought tourism in the Keys to its knees.  At the peak of need, April - May 2020, SOS hosted 50 distributions, providing 250 tons of food to 22,435 Monroe County households (a household is typically defined as 1 - 4 people). To put this into perspective, SOS previously typically served 22,000 households in an entire year.

 

Knowing that hunger needs will not subside and that emergency response can be negatively impacted by the natural isolation of the Florida Keys, SOS has made impressive plans for future storage and distribution. A $500,000 grant from the Edward B. and Joan T. Knight Foundation allowed for the purchase of a 150,000 cubic-foot warehouse on Rockland Key, a few miles outside of Key West. The Disaster Response Depot, which sits on 2.25 acres of land behind Mama’s Garden Center, will enable SOS to accept and store hundreds of pallets of dry and refrigerated goods for distribution throughout Monroe County.

 

Where would SOS be without the endless support of our benefactors and volunteers. SOS is grateful to all of Monroe County with particular thanks to Publix Super Market, Oceans Properties (Margaritaville Resort in Key West), AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, and the hundreds of full and part-time volunteers whose many, many hands have made light work of this enormous task..

 

To learn more about SOS and to subscribe to and receive the monthly newsletter by email, please click here.

 

If you would like to volunteer, please contact Rebekah MacArthur (rebekah@sosfoundation.org) or Lisa Niederman (lisa@sosfoundation.org).

 

If you have any comments or questions, please contact me here.

 

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