Suwannee Democrat

Jasper News

January 10, 2013

Catholic Charities gives out 16K pounds of food to needy

Jasper — Needy families in Jennings and Jasper received an early Christmas present on Wednesday, Dec. 12, compliments of Catholic Charities Feed-A-Family Mobile Outreach Program, headed up by Executive Director Suzanne Edwards. This year’s program was dubbed the 12-12-12 Project.

It was cold and rain was threatening to fall all morning, but people began lining up at Jennings Public Library at 7:30 a.m. They were there to accept a total of about 16,000 pounds of food, book bags filled with school supplies, and those with a valid driver’s license received a $100 gas gift card. Department of Children and Families was also on hand to take SNAP (food stamp) applications.

The program has grown since last March when the mobile outreach arrived in Jennings with 12,000 pounds of food. Edwards said their objective is to go home empty-handed after giving out all the food and supplies.

Fifty-two volunteers, eight staff members from Catholic Charities, and eight kids from the student government at Epiphany Catholic School in Lake City were on hand to help pass out the food and supplies.

Kenny Altman, USDA representative for Hamilton County, along with County Commissioners Beth Burnam, Josh Smith and Robert Brown were in attendance and spent time visiting with all the folks who turned out.

A special treat this year came from a very special young man by the name of Zachary Bonner, a 15-year-old who has changed the lives of many homeless kids across the country.

“He started a foundation and he walked from Tampa to Tallahassee to the governor to talk about child homelessness,” said Edwards. “Then he walked from Tampa to Washington D.C. to talk to the president. He now has a foundation called “Little Red Wagon” and a movie about his life is debuting in L.A.”

The Little Red Wagon official movie trailer is available on his website at www.littleredwagonfoundation.com.

Bonner donated 216 backpacks full of age-appropriate school supplies for the 12-12-12 Project in Jennings.

“I had to go down to Tampa and pick them up,” Edwards said. “He would be here, but he’s in L.A. right now.”

Bonner was born in Searcy, Arkansas in 1997 but now lives in Tampa. He is home schooled and in the 8th grade. He started doing community service in 2004 after Hurricane Charley struck the west coast of Florida and in 2005 he formed the Little Red Wagon Foundation, a non profit organization designed to help under-privileged kids with a focus on homeless youth.

Because Catholic Charities helped Bonner start his foundation, when Edwards told him about the 12-12-12 Project he offered to donate the backpacks. They were then given out to kids from kindergarten to sixth grade.

“He is a dynamic, most simple human being that has not let it go over his head,” said Edwards.

Another surprise came from an anonymous donor who gave $100 gas gift cards to eligible recipients who had a valid driver’s license.

Edwards said they invited North Hamilton Elementary to the event because of their extensive efforts in identifying homeless children through their liaison program. Book bags were reserved for all their homeless students and given out to them when they arrived at noon.

Edwards said the new face of homelessness is middle class America; those who have lost their jobs and/or those who have been forced to take a reduction in wages just to keep their jobs.

Frozen chickens and hams, three days worth of canned and dry goods, pastries from Publix and pastries and bread from Harvey’s were distributed at the event. Recipients also received a referral book listing all the agencies that could possibly help them with their unique situations. Interpreters were on hand for those who didn’t speak English.

“We actually came with a gracious plenty,” said Edwards.

Parents or guardians were required to be present to accept the book bags for their children, Edwards said, because they have to be accountable to their donors.

Edwards thanked Jennings Librarian Sandy Allen, who was instrumental in getting everything set up at the library and local law enforcement who made certain the area was safely roped off.

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