By Susan Datz Edelman, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida
It’s more than the sand and sea that are off-limits near our shoreline — it’s also many of the already scarce resources for Beaches-area residents who struggle to make ends meet.
One of the most important safety net providers at the beach is BEAM, Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry. BEAM recently received one of the first grants from Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund, allowing BEAM staff to continue working tirelessly to help the food insecure in the Beaches communities.
Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund was created in 2016 to help nonprofit organizations serve individuals and families in need during a community crisis. To help those most affected by COVID-19 disruption, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Jewish Federation and Foundation of Northeast Florida, United Way of Northeast Florida and United Way of St. Johns County re-activated the Relief Fund March 16.
The Relief Fund is providing much-needed resources to struggling families by supporting local organizations, like BEAM, who deliver essential human services to residents disproportionately burdened by this public health crisis.
Among other services, BEAM operates two food pantries — one in Mayport and one in Jacksonville Beach. The pantries provide a combination of fresh produce and shelf-stable pantry items, a lifeline for even more residents than usual during COVID-19.
“It’s very hard to find food at the grocery store, especially items that are covered by WIC or SNAP benefits – it’s all drying up,” said Amanda, a BEAM client who came to the Finegan Mobile Pantry in Mayport to pick up food for her family.
“We are a military family with two small children,” she said. “My husband is deployed. I was laid off this week. I work as a hairdresser, and no one is coming in for appointments. I am so thankful for BEAM because I honestly don’t know where else to get food to feed my family right now. We are hanging in there, but COVID-19 has already put hard times on our family— we’re doing our best to stay calm, but it’s hard.”
BEAM is a community-based organization serving low-income residents in Jacksonville’s beaches communities and relies heavily on community support to assist their neighbors in time of need. In just one week, BEAM provided 6,000 pounds of food in the form of pre-packaged groceries to BEAM food pantry clients.
“I am a single mother with an autistic son and newborn baby girl, and I lost my job last week. I was able to pick up diapers, baby formula, and food for my children,” said Elizabeth, a client of the Mayport pantry. “I am so thankful to BEAM. I have never been in this situation before and it’s scary. Thank you for helping me stay calm through all of this.”
Because of COVID-19, BEAM is no longer able to take in food donations from the public, so they must rely on grocery store partners for the food they are distributing. Grants like the one from Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund is critical to BEAM being able to continue to serve the community.
At this time, the Relief Fund has raised nearly $3 million and helped nearly 20 local nonprofits serving those disproportionally affected by COVID-19. More grants are pending. For timely updates, visit the Relief Fund reporting webpage. To make a gift to Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund, visit unitedwaynefl.org/relief-fund.