PALM HARBOR — When the folks at FEAST Food Pantry in Palm Harbor learned the annual National Association of Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive would be postponed this year due to COVID-19, the news was devastating to hear.

“The letter carriers’ food drive, where postal workers collect food from residents and distribute them to food banks nationwide, usually happens every May,” FEAST Executive Director Tamara Black explained. “They decided to postpone it this year due to COVID and the problem is the drive typically nets us enough food to sustain us through the summer. So, we had no idea what we could do to make up for that loss.”

After brainstorming with fellow FEAST staff and volunteers, Black said they decided to do something they had never done before.

“We said, why not have our own food drive? We’ve never had one before, so it was ambitious of us, and we weren’t sure about it. But so far so good. The turnout has been great.”

Indeed, vehicles full of residents donating bags and boxes of food began streaming into the parking lot at 2255 Nebraska Ave. shortly before noon on May 15, where the donors were greeted by a large contingent of enthusiastic volunteers, including members of St. Pete College’s Phi Theta Kappa honor society as well as Leadership Pinellas’ Class of 2021.

“We made sure we had enough volunteers to load and unload, and it’s been great because they’re community leaders,” Black said. She noted that FEAST was able to secure a People Power grant from Leadership Pinellas that allowed them to utilize the extra man- and womanpower. “We also received help promoting the event from several local churches and religious organizations, including Palm Harbor Methodist Church. So, it’s been a true collaborative effort from many people and organizations in the community.”

According to Oldsmar City Council member Katie Gannon, Leadership Pinellas decided to make the FEAST food drive their class project once they learned about the dire nature of their situation.

“When we were deciding our class project, we heard from all the food banks and how their needs have doubled and tripled during the pandemic,” Gannon said during a break in the deliveries. “And we knew the best thing we could do is help these people because these pantries are empty.”

Gannon noted that although the Leadership Pinellas calendar got shifted around a bit, they made it the class project because “it just seemed so appropriate with the need for local families due to COVID-19. All the leaders in the community need to realize there’s so much need at places like FEAST. So much need. And they don’t throw anything out! So, bring as much food as you want, because it won’t go to waste!”

Some donors appeared to take Gannon’s advice, as several vehicles were stocked full of food, and the impressive response from the community threw Black for a loop.

“I’m kind of surprised with the amount of donations we’ve already received,” she admitted after grabbing several bags from Palm Harbor resident Lerin Loos and her son, Dylan. “There has been a tremendous response from the community already and the event is only half over!”

Naturally, Black was asked if FEAST would consider hosting another food drive, and she said it is definitely being considered based on the success of the inaugural event.

“Yes, I’m already thinking this should be an annual event because people want to help and this a great venue to do it,” she said, noting they have been serving double the number of families in need since the pandemic began. “People may think, ‘Oh we’re back to normal now,’ but not everyone is back to normal. There are still a lot of people who need our help, and we always need donations. Always.”

For more information on FEAST Food Pantry, visit feastfoodpantry.com or call 727-789-5275.