For the fifth year in a row, the Jim & Tabitha Furyk Foundation organized a group of community volunteer to pack bags of food for local, underprivileged children to ensure they don’t go hungry over the holiday school break.
“It’s a way that they can help out the community and teach their children about giving back and about how others aren’t quite as fortunate,” PGA Tour golfer Jim Furyk said at the foundation’s Hope for the Holidays packing event Dec. 8. “It’s really cool to see everyone come out and support it.”
Due to an increase in funding from sponsors – which include Interline, Web.com and AT&T – support from the PGA Tour and partnerships with Publix, Target, Pepsi and Walmart, the foundation has dramatically increased the number of bags it can pack from 500 in 2011 to 3,000 this year.
Held in the parking lot adjacent to the businesses at the intersection of A1A and Mickler Road, the assembly line-like packing event was reminiscent of a 1950s Ford plant: methodical and efficient. The only major difference was that this assembly line was substantially more lively and festive. Adorned in Christmas reds and greens, volunteers wearing Santa hats started the packing process by grabbing a bag and then moving down the line to fill it with one of each food item –15 to be exact – including ham, chicken broth, green beans and more. After collecting each of the items, volunteers then ended the process by tying the bag and placing it with the others, which were soon lifted into the back of a truck. The process continued until the 45,000 food items disappeared from the tables, and the 3,000 bags were packed and ready to go in the trucks. It took less than 90 minutes.
The Furyks emphasize that this experience provides families with a hands-on opportunity to truly understand what it’s like to give during the holidays.
“A lot of the schools will say, ‘send in $5, and we’re going to do this,’” Tabitha Furyk said. “So the kids go to their moms, ask for $5, hand it off to their teachers and that’s all they know about giving. We’re giving kids an opportunity to give back to kids.”
From the trucks, the foundation distributed most of the food to 13 Duval County schools and nine St. Johns County schools, specifically to students that are enrolled in the federal free and reduced meal program. Since these students rely on the school’s subsidized meals, they usually don’t have enough food at home to eat during the holiday break. For Jim Furyk, delivering the food to these students is the highlight of the project.
“The best part about being part of any charitable organization is actually getting to see it first hand,” he said. “The first time we visited a school, we went in and you could see the kids whispering and pointing. They know we’re the folks that provide the backpacks and the food that they get to take home. I’m not the guy that plays golf.”
In addition to the schools, the foundation distributed the food to local nonprofits and educational programs including First Coast Blessings in a Backpack, MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, Hugs across the County, Alden Road Exceptional Student Center and the Anthony J. Stinson Association for Change.
Sara Moores sits on both the local and national board for Blessings in a Backpack, which is a national nonprofit organization that provides consistent weekend nutrition for children on the federal free and reduced meal program. She said the foundation’s Hope for the Holidays project is addressing a real need in the community.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is your friends and your neighbors could be part of those children who we are actually feeding,” she said. “They’re not aware that hunger is a real issue here in Duval, St. Johns and Clay counties. We are reaching that need here and getting food to the children. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together to help itself.”
Brette Reiman is the founder of Hugs Across the County, a local nonprofit organization that provides emergency assistance to children in need who attend the St. Johns County schools. Reiman agrees with Moore that there is a need for the foundation’s work. Before Hurricane Matthew, Reiman said, there were about 800 students in St. Johns County considered homeless. Now, that number is closer to 1,000. Consequently, Reiman is hugely supportive of the Furyk’s efforts.
“I think what they do around the country is phenomenal,” Reiman said. “They’re role models to tiny organizations like mine. Huge hearts. All of what they do is incredible.”
The Jim and Tabitha Furyk Foundation was created in 2010 to help children and families in need. By providing project-specific funding to charitable organizations, the foundation has been able to supply food to more than 73,000 food-insecure students during the school year, and pack and deliver 10,000 holiday meals.
“It’s a great feeling to know that in Ponte Vedra and in Jacksonville, we have such a giving community that wants to help out,” Tabitha Furyk said. “It’s really heartwarming.”