Winn-Dixie donation helps HUGS St. Johns provide food


To kick off the new school year, local all-volunteer nonprofit HUGS St. Johns restocked emergency food pantries at more than 13 St. Johns County schools and afterschool programs, thanks to a donation from the Winn-Dixie Gives Foundation.

The HUGS pantries serve hundreds of food-insecure children every month by providing kid-friendly, grab-and-go items that students can discreetly bring home as needed.

"It gives me great relief to no longer worry about whether families have food to eat when our doors are closed, and I look forward to our continued partnership with HUGS," said Rona Welch, unit director, THE PLAYERS Championship Boys & Girls Club, a HUGS Pantry Partner for three years.

"We tailor the program to each school's needs by providing afterschool snacks and meals, weekend meals or late-arrival breakfasts,” said Holly Ross, HUGS volunteer food program coordinator. “We are so thankful for the incredible support from Winn-Dixie and in-kind donations from families, and also feel so fortunate to have a dedicated, high-energy volunteer team that delivers to schools each month."

With the addition of more school locations and the rise in food costs, the Winn-Dixie donation is impactful.

“As inflationary pressures continue to impact our communities, we want to do our part to aid organizations like HUGS that support families as they plan for the school year ahead,” said Shawn Sloan, North Florida region vice president for Winn-Dixie. "We are grateful for this opportunity to serve our neighbors inside and outside of our stores to help restock pantry shelves and cultivate positive learning environments as students head back to class."

St. Johns County has more than 400 children considered homeless each year, and thousands more who are affected by poverty, domestic violence or parent incarceration.

“The help our Title 1 school receives from HUGS is invaluable to our students,” said Julie Conoscenti from Gaines Transition School in St. Augustine. “By stocking our pantry with nutritious food that is easy to prepare, we are able to send food home with students each Friday who might otherwise have nothing substantial to eat until Monday morning. We are also able to add food to their backpacks midweek for our most food-insecure students.”

For information about donating to or volunteering with HUGS food programs or clothing programs benefiting St. Johns County children, go to or call 904-580-4847.