The Hungry and The Humbled

Spaghetti noodles, canned tomatoes, a jar of peanut butter — No, this isn’t my grocery list. These everyday food items that we often toss in our shopping carts without much of a thought made a real impression on me this week.

Manna Food Pantries Pensacola

I was with a group visiting Manna Food Pantries, a non-profit organization that provides much needed food to hungry individuals and families living in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in Florida. The outreach director for Manna spoke to us, explaining how bags of food are provided to eligible recipients, many of them seniors and many living in poverty. The items I mentioned above, plus some oatmeal and canned fruit and veggies, are what a typical bag of food might include — a bag of food that the recipients may have to stretch to feed their families for a week or more. She explained that the people who pack the bags — many of them volunteers — carefully select the items they place in each bag so that the recipients can actually make meals out of compatible ingredients (spaghetti with tomatoes, for example).

The night before, I’d eaten a delicious dinner with my family and later spent time online registering for StitchFix, a service that selects clothing items for you and ships them to you for you to try on, and either keep or return. The stylists who choose the clothing and accessories aim to select items for your shipment that will complement each other, or go with other basic staples you may already own. I’m still waiting for my first “fix” to arrive. I don’t know whether or how long I will continue the service, but I couldn’t help but see the parallel (and the huge divide) between the bag of food being prepared for someone in great need and the luxury of a box of clothes being sent to me. In that moment, I was truly humbled by just how much I have to be grateful for.

I also felt convicted to expose my children to Manna and the needs in our community. Right now they are too young to volunteer at Manna – I asked. Children ages 10 and up can join adults who volunteer on Saturday mornings, sorting food and assisting in the warehouse and gardens.

Manna Food Pantries Garden

I certainly understand this rule, as our three active children make a bull in a china shop seem tame. (I can just imagine cans of green beans being flung around the warehouse or dropped on toes. It isn’t a pretty picture.) But we can collect food and monetary donations for Manna and deliver them to the food pantry. Our daughters’ Girl Scout Brownie troop often looks for activities like this. We are also fortunate to have service opportunities for all ages through our church.

For all the vacationing and fun we find along the Gulf Coast, it’s important to me that we don’t turn a blind eye to the problems that exist. I want my family to contribute to a stronger community.

How do you teach your children about community service? Have you found organizations that offer opportunities for younger children to volunteer? Please leave a comment to reply.

A Not-So-Scary Boo at the Gulf Breeze Zoo

As a freelance writer, it is always exciting when I see my work in print. These days it’s often online only, but this weekend my byline appeared in real, hard copy newsprint. Serious, investigative reporting, you may ask? Well, not exactly, but it was fun to show the kids.

I originally wrote the article about Boo at the Zoo that appeared in the Pensacola News Journal for a Santa Rosa County, Florida tourism program, The Beaches to Woodlands Tour. Beaches to Woodlands includes dozens of events showcasing the diverse natural beauty and culture of the county throughout the month of October. Most (if not all) of the activities are family friendly, including Boo at the Zoo. So yesterday, we decided to check it out. We made our way to the Gulf Breeze Zoo, where we spent about two hours or so seeing the animals and taking part in Halloween-themed activities.

Trick-or-Treat-Trail

Part of the fun of Boo at the Zoo is the Trick-or-Treat Trail, which invites kids to wear costumes and visit stations set up throughout the zoo to collect candy. Our three – dressed as Doc McStuffins, a peacock and a mermaid – enjoyed the chance to don their costumes early and mingle with the likes of Elsa, Jake and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was definitely a unique way to experience the Zoo, which spans 50 acres and includes a petting zoo, train rides and a chance to feed many of the animals.

Giraffe-at-Gulf-Breeze-Zoo

Tiger-at-Gulf-Breeze-Zoo

A budgie aviary was new since I last visited the Gulf Breeze Zoo. It was like stepping into a giant bird cage, surrounded by a few hundred of your closest feathered friends. The kids loved it. So did the birds that we fed, and the makers of hand sanitizer.

feeding-budgies

Some of the extra activities available during Boo at the Zoo include face painting, bounce houses and balloon-making clowns. At $12 per ticket (not including train rides), Boo at the Zoo is a little pricey for a family of five, but comparatively speaking fairly reasonable versus other zoos we’ve visited in the Southeast.

zoo-sign

Look closely: The last line of this sign made me laugh.

Boo at the Zoo continues next Saturday and Sunday, October 25-26, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. CDT if you want to go. For information on other Beaches to Woodlands Tour events, visit the official Tour website.

Beaches to Woodlands Tour “Tees Off” Bubba-Style

Fall has always been my favorite time of year on the Gulf Coast. For starters, the weather is pleasant – still warm enough to enjoy the beaches and outdoor activities, but not so hot you have sweat running down your neck the minute you step outside. Also, the beaches tend to be less crowded, which makes for a peaceful day in the sun, and you spend less time waiting at restaurants and popular attractions. For those who travel to the Coast, better rates are typically available at hotels and rental properties after Labor Day.

What’s not to love, right?

Well, this year, I’m even more excited about fall. Why? Because of the 11th Annual Beaches to Woodlands Tour, a month-long collection of events in Santa Rosa County, Florida. Santa Rosa County includes Milton and Navarre Beach, and it’s less than an hour’s drive from Pensacola and Destin. I have had the opportunity to cover some of the events as a freelance writer helping to promote the Tour. Although I am compensated for articles I’ve written, I am not asked or paid to blog about these events. I am telling you about them because I am truly excited about Beaches to Woodlands this year. It may be because my kids are now old enough to get out and enjoy some of the family-friendly activities going on throughout the month of October.

aerial-view-Bubba-Watson-corn-maze

One of the first events on the Beaches to Woodlands Tour is actually open this weekend through November 2, with the exception of Halloween. It’s the Sweet Seasons Farms Corn Maze. It’s been generating a lot of buzz because the corn maze, viewed from above, depicts two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson swinging a golf club. Watson is from Santa Rosa County – a little town called Bagdad, to be exact. So the corn maze is a nice tribute to him. He’s tweeted about the event a few times already. Pensacola News Journal shared this video on pnj.com that tells a little bit about the making of the maze and what you can expect if you visit this year.

If getting lost in a corn maze is not your thing, there are other Beaches to Woodlands Tour events to suit a multitude of interests, including art, history, running, biking, and marine science. Take a look at thebeachestowoodlandstour.com for more information. It’s worth checking out if you are going to be in Northwest Florida this fall. Hopefully I can share some real, live photos and updates when we head out to experience some of the fun.