ORANGE PARK – Volunteers huddled Tuesday morning to talk about their assignments moments before the doors opened at the Clothes Closet and Food Pantry of Orange Park.
Volunteer Anita Aultman was paying more attention to her cellphone, constantly refreshing a page to see the results of the State Farm Neighborhood Assist program.
Just as the group was about to go to work, Aultman looked up from her phone and smiled. The all-volunteer organization that provides food, clothing and household items to residents in need in Clay County suddenly realized they were among 100 national winners who will receive a $25,000 grant.
“Jubilation,” yelled one of the volunteers as he packed a grocery bag for a family.
The money is one of the biggest gifts to the Clothes Closet and Food Pantry of Orange Park. What started as the longest of longshots, the Neighborhood Assist grant evolved into a community-wide drive that gained speed until the online balloting ended a few weeks ago.
“This is one of the largest grants we’ve received so far and it will do a great deal for our community,” Aultman said. “We have between 60 and 70 families a week coming in for food, and it means that the children won’t go hungry.
“Due to a significant and sudden increase in clientele, funding has been inadequate to meet the demand for assistance. The grant from State Farm will help meet these needs.”
State Farm opened the program for the first 4,000 applicants. All of the spots were gone within an hour, Aultman said.
The insurance company then pared the list to the top 200 vote-getters and the Clothes Closet and Food Pantry made the cut. From there, the top 100 organizations would share a total of $2.5 million.
The State Farm Review Committee selected the top 200 finalists, and public voting determined the top 100. In the eleven years of the program, nearly 500 organizations have received a total of $12.5 million to enact change in their communities.
Aultman isn’t sure exactly where the Clothes Closet and Food Pantry finished in the balloting, but she said it was ranked 58th heading into the final day of voting.
“State Farm is happy to celebrate its 100th anniversary by providing 100 organizations with grant money to help them address the needs in their communities,” said Rasheed Merritt, Assistant Vice President at State Farm. “We look forward to seeing the impact these $25,000 grants will have.”
More than 2 million ballots were cast nationally during the promotion, State Farm said.
Mary Fleener didn’t know about the grant money. She was more focused on finding clothes and food to help her family of three.
“This helps me because of the fact that my family can eat more,” she said. “It’s good to know we have a place where we can go when we need help and the assistance is always going to be there.
“Without this, I don’t know what to do. We wouldn’t always have enough food. I’ll come here and I fill out the forms and I’m doing everything I have to do to make sure that my family can eat, and they make sure that they do everything possible to help you as well.”
Aultman said the bulk of the money will be spent on restocking the shelves with food.
According to the organization’s mission, better nutrition produces better employees, better students and better communities, thus leading to an overall increase of community health.
By providing food for low-income parents, we will ensure a child does not go to bed hungry, and a parent does not wake up wondering where the next family meal will come from.
Additionally, the parents will have the financial freedom to spend their income on other necessities such as rent, transportation, and health care.
For more information on State Farm’s program, please visit www.neighborhoodassist.com, and for more information on The Clothes Closet and Food Pantry, please visit https://www.ccfpop.org/.