A Manalapan philanthropist has given a $1 million donation to a a Lantana food bank.
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It was a small item in the Palm Beach Daily News, just a very short story about The Breakers Resort on Palm Beach giving 23,000 pounds of food to the Palm Beach County Food Bank in Lantana.
But the March 24 article about one hotel’s efforts to help during the coronavirus pandemic caught Lois Pope’s eye.
“I’ve been living here since 1971,” said the Manalpan philanthropist. “I knew there were poor sections (of the county.) But I didn’t realize there were food banks.”
Brought back in time to the Depression years of her childhood, Pope remembered what it was like to be a child and worry about food.
She then made a quick decision to act.
Pope gave $1 million to the Palm Beach County Food Bank, the largest gift in the food bank’s history.
The money will go to support and expand the food bank children’s program, Food4OurKids program, now renamed Lois’ Food4Kids.
“It’s very unusual,” Karen C. Erren, Food Bank executive director, said of the gift. “Mrs. Pope has really come to the forefront to ensure children in this community get access to the food they need.”
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Every week, a backpack with seven meals for children, plus one meal for the family, is distributed through Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the county.
Palm Beach County represents the 10th largest school district in the country. More than 60 percent of school-age children are already eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Prior to the pandemic, the food bank already was providing meals to more than 3,000 children at 45 sites during the summer and on weekends. Overall, the food bank serves about 200,000 Palm Beach County residents.
But with the current crisis, the need is increasing at a time when supplies of donated foods from local groceries and businesses, as well as manufacturers, have been drying up, forcing the food bank to purchase food.
“We cannot get from the places we were getting our food, and we have triple the need,” said Marti LaTour, food bank chair. Pope’s gift, La Tour said, came just in time.
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With 170,000 jobless claims filed last week in the state, people who never thought they would need help from the food bank are calling, Erren said. Sometimes, it is not easy for them to reach out for help.
“We encourage people not to be ashamed,” Erren said. “This system is doing what it is set up to do, to help people.”
Pope said she remembers growing up in the Depression, when food was scarce. Sometimes her mother ate less to make sure her children had enough food, she recalled.
Reading about the food bank, “I immediately went back many years,” she said.
The Palm Beach Food Bank was created in 2012 during the recession. Typically, the food bank procures more than 5 million pounds of food annually from grocery stores, restaurants, food distributors and wholesalers. It then distributes the food to nearly 200 local community partners and programs, including food pantries and soup kitchens.
However, in the wake of COVID-19, donations have become scarce and some agencies have closed.
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Pope, the widow of National Enquirer publisher Generoso Pope Jr., is a well-known philanthropist whose causes range from health care to veterans to animal welfare. She gave $12 million to the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute to create a Palm Beach Gardens research center, dubbed the Lois Pope LIFE Center for Retinal and Macular Degeneration Research. The gift was the largest in the institute’s history.
She spearheaded the building of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington D.C. She also supports the Humane Society, including a program to bring home all dogs that served with military personnel in Iraq an Afghanistan.
Pope said she believes those who can should help those who need it, and she hopes her action spurs others to do the same.
“I hope it inspires others,” Pope said. “I may even make a matching gift. The food bank needs this money, and I’m happy to be able to do it. We need to take care of our children.”
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