Editor’s note: This month’s Business Beacon is a spotlight on Food For Thought Outreach, a local nonprofit organization working to end food insecurity in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. You can find them on Facebook and Instagram. Founder Tiffanie Nelson talks to us about why she started the organization and how it has grown since 2010. Over the past few years, the Scenic Sotheby’s International Realty team has contributed more than $70,000 and nearly 77,000 food items in support of Food For Thought’s mission.
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1. How did you get the idea or concept for your business?
TN: In 2010, my son was starting kindergarten in Walton County. As a parent, this was my first introduction to public school and meeting a larger part of my community. I first became aware of the term “food insecurity” during the school enrollment process and like many people, I was just not aware we had these issues in our community. At the time, I was a single mother of two young children and while I was working and had a good job, I certainly could understand the fear of not being able to provide for my children. I could not imagine the stress on a child who would miss many meals during the week and be expected to attend school and perform at the same rate as their more fortunate peers. I felt compelled to help. What started as a small family project with a $300 budget, quickly grew as the need was greater than imagined. I felt that the first step was to bring awareness to our community that we had a very real but hidden issue impacting more than 30% of the school-age children in our area. It was not easy but change never is easy. Over the years, Food For Thought has grown to serve over 3,000 children each week across Walton and Okaloosa Counties. We have expanded our programs to bridge the meal gap in the lives of the children we serve year-round.
2. Let’s discuss numbers: What year did you open? How many locations do you have? How many people do you employ?
TN: Our first service was in 2010. We started with six children and a $300 budget. Food For Thought was run with 100 percent volunteers for the first three years.
3. What do you sell or what service do you provide? What’s your best seller?
TN: We provide services year-round that include our weekly backpack program that runs all school year, monthly snack services direct to the schools, and holiday and summer services as well. Our largest program is our backpack program as we will deliver over 100,000 bags a school with just over one million food items.
4. What’s unique about what you do or offer?
TN: Our structure is unique to food-based nonprofit work. Food For Thought does not take state or federal funds. We raise our funds annually through private grants and foundations, events and general donations. We purchase more than 90% of our food. We do all of this so that we can provide the most direct services possible and meet the ever-changing needs of our community.
5. How would you describe your business to a potential customer?
TN: Our volunteers have the opportunity to be hands-on and make an immediate impact. We work with an average of 200 volunteers weekly who provide the hands and feet needed to execute programs at this scale.
6. What do you love most about your line of work?
TN: We are able to show our community that giving back and being of service can be easy to work into your life. Often, giving back can seem difficult to add to an already busy schedule but we work hard to make our service opportunities something that can fit into your daily routine. Being a family-focused organization also allows children of all ages to participate, which expands our reach and influences young people to make service part of their lives.
7. What sorts of trends are you seeing in your industry?
TN: Food insecurity has become part of our language and understanding in recent years. As more and more families have struggled through COVID and now inflation, as an organization we do not have to work as hard to help people understand the problem or why it is so widespread. This just creates greater awareness and removes some of the stigmas of food insecurity.
8. Tell me in just a sentence or two what you feel sets you apart from your competitors.
TN: In the world of nonprofit work, you can find many wonderful people dedicated to the work of their organizations. I am not different in that dedication, I just happen to be the founder of the organization and that is unique in many ways.
9. Who or what inspires you? This could be a family member or celebrity, a particular quote or even a book/movie/podcast. The sky’s the limit!
TN: Day to day at Food For Thought, I am inspired and driven by the children we serve and how grateful they are for our support. When times are hard, which they often are in this line of work, remembering our purpose and the children who need us is all I need to keep moving.
10. What’s the best thing about being a part of the Emerald Coast, personally and/or professionally?
TN: We live in a very generous community, generous with time, talents and support.
11. What does a typical day in your business look like? (Pretend it’s Monday (or Friday!) and take me through the highlights of your day.)
TN: Mondays and Tuesdays are spent planning with the team for the services we have to execute in the back half of the week. We schedule hundreds of volunteer shifts and ensure food and vans are ready and in place for the week. The staff typically spends 20 hours a week planning and 25 hours a week providing services.
12. What’s your best “insider tip?” (This could be a community tip for vacationers or homeowners or even a tip for customers related to your business.)
TN: When you are in town on vacation or on business, consider adding a few hours to volunteer service to your trip. We often work with families or businesses during their time in our area and it is so rewarding.
13. How do you recharge or relax when the day is done?
TN: Home is where I recharge, with my family.
14. Just the deets, please! Where are you located? Business hours? Social media profiles and/or website links we need to know about? (Please feel free to add social media handles or direct links!)
TN: We have two locations: 132 Market Street in Santa Rosa Beach and 908 Airport Road in Destin. Our website is www.fftfl.org. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about us.
15. One final question: If there was just one thing you wish the public knew about your business, what would it be?
TN: When our volunteers show up at the pantry, we are ready for them. The food is in place, the bags and supplies are ready and each volunteer shift is generally one hour. What is not seen is the work that happens behind the scenes to get to that place. There is no alternative but to have the resources to provide for the thousands of children we serve but it requires a serious commitment from a talented team to raise the funds, source the food, train the volunteers and execute services at this scale. With that, sometimes it can be misleading that we always have everything we need when, in fact, often what we need fell into place just in time.