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Polk Employees Donate Two Tons of Food for Thanksgiving

Published on Nov 25, 2020

Under a blue pop-up tent behind the Bartow Church Service Center, Ramiro Hernandez and a slew of volunteers loaded boxes of produce and lined up brown grocery sacks stuffed with Thanksgiving supplies for a line of those on a list of referrals.

Two tons of that food was donated this year by Polk County employees at a time when people in the community need it most.

"We've fed a lot of people," said Ramiro Hernandez, a case manager with Health and Human Services Division who has been helping with the drive for the last 25 years. "This is what it's about, helping people. We drove all over the county picking up this food. And while everyone (who donated) might not be here, they are here through all of this."

It's a tradition that has continued for 28 years at the Board of County Commissioners, he said. And he's been here since almost the beginning.

"Do you remember the old tobacco factory?" he asked with a chuckle. "Well that's where we used to store all the food in the beginning. Then it was all moved to the Indigent Health Care offices. It was very different back then."

What hasn't changed is the need for meals. Each year, county employees, and a few members of the community who have learned about the program, submit referrals of people and families in the communities they know who can use the packages of food. And what had been a drive to provide a meal for a family for Thanksgiving Day has now turned into multiple meals for several days.

This year, the food drive generated about 60 referrals for local families, which was down from about 80 last year.

"I think it's because we had a little later start," Alice Brown, Polk's aging and social services manager said. "And with everyone tied up with the CARES programs, we didn't have the staff available this year to do it (like before). That's why we got partnered with the Bartow Church Service Center."

The remaining food that wasn't used for the Polk County referrals will also help those who submitted names to the church group.

"It's really, really awesome," Hernandez said. It's also a lot of hard work and heavy lifting. But it's all worth it. We are truly thankful for what we are able to give."