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Longboat Key builds a bridge to Newtown
The Herald-Tribune - 5/21/2020
May 20--SARASOTA -- When, in late April, Francine Achbar heard what was going on in Newtown with the coronavirus, the first thing she did was spread the word among her Longboat Key neighbors, overwhelmingly women. Because ...
"Well, I don't want to be real sexist about it, but, well," she says, "let's just say there are a lot of successful businessmen out here who look at things in only one way, like 'Oh, I don't know, let me look at their 990 (tax form) first.'
"I thought women would be more instantly compassionate for 'I don't have any formula and I have a baby,' and the idea that we live in such an affluent place for some, and such a poor, devastated place for others."
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As a result, several dozen Longboat Key residents whose paths might never have otherwise intersected with the dire straits in Newtown have extended a supply line of food and sundries to a nonprofit overwhelmed by the economic shock of COVID-19. But amid her gratitude for this unexpected altruism from the exclusive side of Sarasota Bay, its founder and CEO, April Glasco, wonders if the momentum can endure once the snowbirds make their delayed journeys up north.
"I'm very concerned, because it affects Sarasota as a whole, for all of us to be healthy," says Glasco, who celebrated the 25th anniversary of Second Chance-Last Opportunity as a nonprofit in March, just before the coronavirus crash. "I think we have a chance to bond Sarasota as a whole, not just one part of a community, when we can help each other and educate each other."
Glasco founded Second Chance as a local convenience store 30 years ago, in a modest 900-square foot building distinguished by its Van Wezel purple paint job. The pastor and former corrections officer reshaped its mission into a life-skills training center after it became clear that man does not live by bread alone. Steer clients away from recidivism, domestic violence, alcoholism and other co-dependencies and you've taught them to fish for life.
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But when the pandemic hit Sarasota and the lights went out, coaching and mentoring were relegated to the virtual world and eclipsed by palpable anxiety in Glasco's neck of the woods.
"With all the stores closing and all the organizations they could get help from shutting down, nobody was paying attention to life skills -- they needed something to eat," she recalls. "They were all walking into the unknown, not knowing which direction to go. It was crazy, and people were scared to death."
With hundreds of people, familiar and not-so-familiar, converging on Newtown's center of gravity for the at-risk community, it became clear the at-risk community had expanded exponentially, almost overnight. Glasco began cobbling together whatever resources Second Chance could muster and dispatching pleas for help. With minimal refrigeration and storage capacity, boasting a single microwave oven, Glasco's challenge was daunting.
On Longboat Key, Arlene Skversky read an article about acute food insecurity across the bay and started alerting friends and neighbors, prodding them to organize and get busy. For Massachusetts native Achbar, accustomed to a wider social safety net back home, events on the mainland caught her off guard.
"This unemployment situation -- I read that story about the guy who walked across the state to bring attention to the failure of the unemployment system to pay people their lousy $245," Achbar says. "And then I saw there were breadlines in Sarasota, Florida. And I thought, how can this be?"
Skversky, vice president of the Longboat Key Democratic Club, did a little research and was impressed by the Second Chance mission. "The purpose is not to feed people forever, but to help them become self-sustaining so they can move forward."
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Skversky contacted Glasco and took an inventory of the needs at Second Chance. Some two dozen volunteers on the island divided into donors and food gatherers, sometimes both. The Longboat Key Publix became a major resource, with volunteers gathering to collect just-expired goods and bakery items, or paying straight-up cash for other necessities.
For now, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the counseling center has been converted into a drive-thru food dispensary.
Mondays are reserved primarily for health care products, with items like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer distributed to the 200 or so people who've been showing up. Wednesdays are reserved for food distribution, as are Fridays, when as many as 500 people drop in to stock up for the weekend.
On this particular Wednesday afternoon at 1933 Dr. Martin Luther King Way, drive-in traffic is steady, with vehicles backed up and waiting their turn across Dixie Avenue. Sarasota restaurateurs Natasha Menke of The Serving Spoon and Carolina and Oscar Revelli of Bodhi Tree Cafe are serving up fresh meals, subsidized by customers' donations, despite having taken major financial hits themselves.
Glasco directs the office-to-curbside flow of food like a traffic cop. "We always get kids, but not like this," she says, noting the five youngsters who have materialized near the entrance. "They usually come with their parents -- maybe their parents are going back to work."
More than 300 meals will be distributed here today.
All told, between her "coronavirus volunteers" and her Second Chance helpers, Glasco reckons the entire operation relies on 50 folks to make it work. And thanks to an assist from Jessica's Organic Farmstand, Glasco hopes to translate food insecurity into a teachable moment.
It started last month when Longboat Key resident Anthony Kahn -- after being alerted to Newtown's plight by Skversky -- decided to load up with extra organic fruit and vegetables at Jessica's five-acre spread, where he and his wife Joanne are frequent patrons.
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Using donations from other LBK contributors as well as his own wallet, Kahn worked out a deal where the farm would match whatever Kahn purchased every Friday morning with its own donation.
"In fact, last Friday," Kahn says, "Andrew added so much he had to bring it over in a pickup truck and we had a little caravan going to Second Chance."
For Farms spokesman Andrew Noune, the opportunity to help Second Chance is far better than having to till unsold produce back into compost. Most of what goes unharvested are veggies that may not "present" as well, visually, as produce on the retail shelves. "But they're still nutritious and they taste just as good," Noune says.
Carrots, celery, kale, collards, dozens of crops all told -- Noune says he's "overjoyed" to see good food going to those who need it most. "This is a win-win-win for everybody," he says.
Just how long this experiment in altruism lasts is anyone's guess. Mindful of COVID-19's most vulnerable targets -- those with underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes -- April Glasco says her community is rolling with the virus' lessons.
"They're learning to come in now and ask for masks, and hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies, things they weren't asking for in the beginning," she says. "But with the fresh fruit and veggies, it's been awesome.
"Now we can teach everybody how to eat and cook healthy. And we hope they will take the nutrition education they're getting and use it to have a healthier lifestyle in the future."
WANT TO HELP?
For more information about Second Chance-Last opportunity, visit secondchancelastopportunity.org.
To donate to Jessica's COVID-19 Relief Fund, visit jessicasorganicfarm.com.
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