By LEAH STRATMANN
Despite the fact that the Muscogee Nation of Florida and coincidentally the Rural Relief Fund received some very good news last week, tribal chief Ann Tucker is still worried. “The tribe, along with Pan Care has received notification from Blue Cross/Blue Shield that they have awarded us $100,000 to establish a satellite clinic in Blue. I think this is a big deal and I am absolutely stunned we received the award. I couldn’t believe anybody was giving anybody money these days,” Tucker said.
While this is good news for the future, the present continues to be bleak. “We have fed more than 2,500 people in the last three months, which is more than we fed in nine months last year,” Tucker noted. “These are people on fixed incomes, a lot of elderly who are in trouble.”
During the summer, the pantry will be on an every three-week schedule. This decision was made because of the decrease in food available from USDA and the employment opportunities in south Walton. “While we are still experiencing an increase in families needing assistance, the resources are fixed. We would like to build a surplus of staples that can be used during the early winter months. The on-going extreme weather damage coupled with inflation will increase the cost of basic food supplies and severely limit our ability to feed those in need. Bulk sugar has increased by 35 percent just within the last month. While I can take this matter to the county commissioners, I do not believe they will be in a position to respond with fiscal assistance. Any ideas are appreciated, including a possible sharing of surplus with other more established pantries,” Tucker stated.
Tucker said the time is now to create a fund-raising committee to find operational capital for the remainder of the year. One of the suggestions is to send out donation requests to local businesses and seek directories of groups. The Muscogee tribe will pay for bulk postage and attach donation levels.
“I would like this fund-raising committee to meet separately from the support group and then share decisions with the support group for implementation. It is important to have a strategic plan by August, if Rural Relief is to continue through next year.”
The pantry will be open from 9 a.m. until noon on July 9, July 30, Aug. 20 and Sept. 10. Tucker emphasized that Rural Relief will respond to emergency requests for food. Those needing service should call 835-2078. “We don’t mind helping people in between pantry dates if it is truly an emergency,” Tucker said.
The Rural Relief Coalition is still providing canned goods. The tribe is absorbing the electric costs for all the refrigerators, freezers, and so forth. “We really need for people to donate for an electric fund. We earned $650 at the new thrift store last month, but my mother, who is the tribe’s treasurer, was afraid to open the last electric bill. The thrift store supports the pantry, but we need to have a fund just for the electric bill,” she said.
The cost of each pantry opening is between $600 and $800 per pantry. The cost of gas has caused the cost of food to go up. The Midwestern flooding will affect the grain crops and will likely impact the cost of bread and grains, Tucker noted. “We need to have money set aside by September when we go back to two pantries per month and we need the money to do that. We are really really in trouble with hard cash donations. I am concerned about making it through the summer. I don’t know how we have made it so far, but we really need some cash donations. Wednesday through Saturday is the best time to drop off food donations and tax-deductible cash donations may be made by mail to Rural Relief Fund, 278 Church Road, Bruce, FL 32455. The need is great,” Tucker emphasized.