By Melissa McKinlay
Palm Beach County Commissoiner
Steven B. Wilson
Mayor, City of Belle Glade
Joe Kyles Sr.
Mayor, City of South Bay
Keith Babb Jr.
Mayor, City of Pahokee
PALM BEACH COUNTY — In times of crisis, Palm Beach County residents come together to support those in need. From the beginning, the global COVID-19 pandemic was no exception.
In March, when COVID-19 was starting to hit our communities hard, Glades-area church leaders led by Grace Fellowship Bishop Kenny Berry reached out to a West Palm Beach based nonprofit to extend its meal program to the Glades to ensure residents would not go hungry. The program would feed more than 15,000 people in the Glades, utilize donated produce grown in western Palm Beach County, while also keeping restaurant employees employed. It seemed to be a win-win for our communities and everyone involved.
Unfortunately, politics trumped charity when local activist Kimberly Mitchell of the Everglades Trust, founded and chaired by a former Orlando developer, raised concerns about the organization’s support from local farmers, which are some of the largest employers and supporters of the Glades communities. In this crisis, they also happen to be growing rice and fresh vegetables Americans are counting on across the country. These farmers routinely provide support for our communities when people are in need. Why would Ms. Mitchell take food from our Glades community members at any time, much less during this COVID-19 crisis when they need it most?
Ms. Mitchell selfishly put the Everglades Trust’s and her personal anti-farmer feelings over the health and safety of thousands of Glades families in our district and cities. It’s unfathomable that someone would shamefully try to score cheap political points during this time of crisis, especially against farmers who are deemed essential and critical by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and are working overtime to keep grocery shelves stocked.
As a result of Ms. Mitchell’s insistence that the nonprofit no longer work with the Glades-area farmers, the program linking restaurants to western Palm Beach County communities was canceled. It was an ugly moment for our county, and one that should not go unnoticed.
Fortunately, the Glades communities came together and founded a new, enhanced program in a matter of days that is not only continuing the critical meals programs but is also providing economic relief to local businesses. The Tri-Cities and Grace Fellowship have partnered directly with local restaurants who have been hurt by closures as well as 44 grower-members of Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, United States Sugar Corporation and Florida Crystals, who are underwriting the meals and operating costs of the program that will ensure our residents can have hot meals during this emergency declaration.
While it is sad that what started as a well-intentioned communitywide effort took an unfortunate turn, in the end the selfish agenda of one person has resulted in the selfless and broad unifying of many others. We look forward to continuing our efforts throughout this crisis to take care of our residents in these tight-knit Glades communities. They deserve nothing less.