Through the Years A history of Pie and the people we have helped and some of the things we have done.
I have been asked a lot lately about the origins of Pie in the Sky and so, as we are going into our tenth year, I think now is a good time to look back on where we began and where we are now.
In 2006 I was sent to Hastings by The Betty Griffin House to open a rural services center for Hastings and the surrounding areas of Elkton, Spuds, Armstrong and Flagler Estates. Sure, I thought, how hard could that be? Turns out, it was indeed very hard. Spreading the word about domestic violence in a rural community, but someone unknown to that community, did not immediately win me any friends. But after a lot of foot work, innovative thinking and making the right connections, I began to get a foothold. The first year I was there, we had a march during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. There were about 25 of us and we marched around the corner. By the time it was all over, in April of 2009, I held another march, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This time, we had more than 125 people and we marched from the railroad tracks on the north side of Hastings all the way to the library. The program had, quite literally turned a corner and we were now the most successful rural center out of 19 across the state.
So of course, one month later, the program was defunded, for reasons still unknown. During the latter years of the program, I met Jewel and Roosevelt, two African-American men who were part of an unspoken underbelly of Hastings past and present; modern-day slavery. They left to escape sexual abuse by family members of the people who kept them enslaved and thus began a journey that would take me to places I never imagined existed, just 17 miles from the resort town of St. Augustine.
Yes, you read that right. Modern-day slavery in St. Johns County. But it's not who you think it is. An agricultural town, Hastings has long relied on farmworkers to plant and harvest the crops they have been growing since the days of Henry Flagler. The farmworkers have been German POW's, held at the camp during World War II, at the corner of SR 206 and SR 207, immigrants and for the past five decades, African-American, U.S. born, men and women. They are townspeople of Hastings who chose to work in the fields and more often than not, they are homeless, down on their luck folks recruited from homeless shelters with promises of great pay, lavish accommodations, flat screen tv's and short work days. Once they are in the van, those promises quickly fade and they find themselves in debt from day one, loaned money at a 100 percent interest rate, taken to isolated, dilapidated labor camps, far from civilization, charged for every thing they need from food and water to use of the poorly functioning lavatory. They are often beaten or threatened with violence and are subjected to daily denigration. And that is only the beginning.
Yes, before you ask, local authorities are aware of the issue as are local and statewide politicians and most every federal law enforcement agency you could name. And no, with the exception of one case against crew boss Ronald Evans, little has been done to find justice for these disenfranchised men and women. (https://ciw-online.org/blog/2010/04/a_brief_history_of_evil/)
The Farmworkers- where it all began
The Food Connection
Starting a food pantry was one of the ways we were able to have access to these men. Yes, we gave them food. But more importantly, we gave them hope. They became volunteers at the pantry and for the first time in their lives, they became givers and the joy it brought to them was incredible. Sadly, giving them that joy and that hope was what did the pantry in. Their enslavers could take away everything we gave them, food, shoes, blankets, soap and gloves. But they could not take away the hope. And they could not allow them to have that. Hope, could not exist in the world of modern day slavery in Hastings.
Over the last ten years we have rescued many of these men. Some have been reunited with their families, others are now living healthy, safe lives in other towns. It is not all we can do, but it is what we could do. It is no longer safe for us to operate in Hastings.
But through the food pantry we identified a group of people who were also in need, in a different way: homebound senior citizens. Our "Angels on Wheels" program began with volunteers from Hastings delivering food to senior citizens who could not come stand in the long lines at the pantry. It was there that the seed would be planted for our Senior Produce Program that exists today.
For many years, Pie Director, Malea Guiriba wrote a bi-weekly column for The St. Augustine Record. Many of the stories were about Pie in the Sky's involvement in the community. Here are just a few:
Read about our Director, Malea Guiriba, named one of the top seven People of the Year. Page 74 https://www.staugustinesocial.com/digital-issue/
Through the Years
The Evolution Continues
After working in the food deserts for two years, we have been able to drill down even further to a population in our community that is more underserved than the folks in food deserts; homebound, low-income senior citizens, most of whom subsist on less than $750 per month in Social Security. Not only is having enough food an issue, but having access to healthy food is a luxury most of these seniors would never dare to dream of. Several years ago we identified this population in Hastings and began a home delivery service of fresh produce to seniors who were unable to physically come to the food pantry. That program continues today, serving 25 seniors in need. County wide, this same issue exists but on a much larger scale. In 2016, The Department of Elder Affairs has identified 4100 seniors in St. Johns County as low-income food insecure. This means there are 4100 people, over the age of 62 who must choose each month between paying the rent and food; between prescription medicine and food; between heat in the winter and food. We don’t think these are choices our senior citizens should have to face. In 2018, the number of senior citizens living at or below the poverty level has increased to 6,525. That is a huge uptick in the number of older Americans who are at risk of being food insecure.
In adhering to our mission to “fill in the cracks” and provide services where a need exists but goes unmet, we partnered with The Council on Aging to help reduce the number of seniors on their Meals on Wheels waiting list. These seniors were vetted by the COA as living below the poverty level but having the ability to prepare fresh food if they had access to it. In February of 2016 we began providing bi-weekly deliveries of fresh, local produce to 12 of those seniors. Each week we purchase directly from the farmers, the freshest seasonal produce available, more than 2000 pounds weekly. Our cost to provide this service is just 72 cents per day. There is no cost to the senior. The USDA recommends seniors eat 2.5 cups of fresh vegetables and 2.5 cups of fresh fruit per day to maintain good health. But if you can’t get out to get fresh produce and you can’t afford to spend your few food dollars on expensive fresh produce, then you are stuck eating it from a can, which contains dangerously high amounts of sodium and other additives that contribute to a decline in health. And for vulnerable seniors, a decline in health means they will be less likely to age in place; will incur more frequent hospitalizations and ultimately can reduce the quality and length of their lives. We know fresh is better. And we know it doesn’t matter if you can’t afford it. It’s still all about access.
How many people we will serve
The Senior Program has been growing steadily since we began. As of April 2019, we are serving 465 seniors, delivering fresh produce twice a month. Each month, we purchase nearly four tons of produce, which is delivered by 50 volunteers, all across the county. While our numbers continue to rise, so does the need for funding. We can deliver enough fresh produce, along with other donated food items to last each senior for one month. It costs Pie in the Sky $262.50 for one year of deliveries to one senior. There is no cost for the senior.
How we will impact the community
I know it probably is an oversimplification, but the impact will be measured by the number of seniors we can reach. While 4100 food insecure seniors seems a daunting number, every single one that we deliver food to, we are also delivering quality of life. Each of our volunteers has a route and they get to know the folks they deliver to and develop relationships with them, often discovering additional needs for which we can provide assistance or referrals. Of nearly equal importance of the food we deliver, we also bring smiles and hugs and friendship. Often times, our volunteers will be the only human contact a senior has during that week. The impact is measured not only by the numbers but by the quality of service and compassion and the unmeasurable value of knowing that someone cares.
Filling in the Cracks
Through the years, Pie in the Sky has helped hundreds of people throughout St. Johns County with a wide variety of services. We've built wheelchair ramps, given folks bus tickets home, operated a food pantry where we gave away 1.5 million pounds of food, helped a bunch of people get dentures, medical care and cancer treatment and we've helped young mothers with baby food and diapers, senior citizens with home safety repairs and farmworkers with socks and boots and gloves. And we continue to help today, ten years after our founding, by delivering fresh produce to the homes of low-income senior citizens throughout St. Johns County. Pie in the Sky is a registered 501c-3 organization. EIN: 27-0616592
For the Birds 2019
We are so thrilled to announce the addition of the LIVE AUCTION featuring 13 our fabulous birdhouses. Come enjoy the masterful auctioneer skills of Len Freeman. The auction begins at 1 p.m. And remember, all proceeds will be matched by the Delores Barr Weaver Fund. These are some of the birdhouses that will be available during the LIVE AUCTION, which begins at 1 p.m. You are not going to want to miss this. Help Pie in the Sky celebrate our 10th Anniversary and let's raise the ROOF!