Barnabas updates FBCC on programs, challenges

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 22, 2021

At the invitation of Vice Mayor Len Kreger, representatives of Barnabas, Inc. presented an overview of their community outreach services during the past year’s pandemic.

Eric Forestal and Renee Stoffel

At the March 16, 2021 Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) meeting, Barnabas Center Inc. Community Outreach Manager Renee Stoffel provided an overview of their programs and services. She was accompanied by Barnabas Chief Operations Officer Eric Forestal. Following a short video, Stoffel delivered thanks to the FBCC and the City. She singled out for special recognition assistance from the Elm Street Sportsman Association.

In response to questions from the FBCC, Forestal said that continuing City support for Barnabas programs was critical. He said that in the first 6 months of the fiscal year, Barnabas spent its entire year’s food budget to meet community needs. “What the City has been able to provide to us has been crucial,” he said. Stoffel added that Feeding Northeast Florida, which services 8 counties, has been stretched to continue providing assistance and forced to cut back on food distributions to Nassau County from 3 to 2, meaning that Barnabas has had to spend its funds to sponsor additional food distributions. “But we won’t stop doing what we have to do,” she said.

Commissioner Chip Ross asked how much money Barnabas would be seeking from the City in the next fiscal year, noting that they had requested $60K for the current year. Forestal said that would depend on a number of factors, but would probably not be “a whole lot more.” Ross continued, asking what would be the impact if the City did not fund their request. Forestal said, “It would be paramount to the survival of our programs.”

City Comptroller Pauline Testagrose reports that the City gave to Barnabas in FY20 $76,000 and in FY21 $90,000 as follows:

FY20 Budget – $7,000
FY20 Cares Act – $60,000 For Food Pantry Program
FY20 Cares Act – $9,000 For Mental Health Services

FY21 Budget – $30,000
FY21 Additional amount $ 60,000

She added that the additional amounts given at the start of the pandemic, were reimbursed by the Cares Act. The additional amount given in FY21 is not eligible for reimbursement, but the Commission gave the money to the non-profits when the Cares Act reimbursement was received.

The Fernandina Observer provides the information below to our readers who may not be familiar with the work of Barnabas, Inc. This statement was included in the Tuesday meeting agenda packet from Barnabas to help the FBCC understand their programs:

This past year has undoubtedly consumed all of our collective energies and attention on the Covid-19 pandemic, and it appears that much of 2021 will be the same.

As the major nonprofit safety net organization for Nassau County, Barnabas leapt into action to help those impacted by the pandemic. Through the food pantry, mobile food distributions, crisis assistance program and health services, Barnabas was on the front lines in 2020 to help our neighbors in need and the unemployed workers who are the backbone of our local economy. By partnering with the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce and the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, Barnabas was able to garner significant financial support of the county and city governments and hundreds of business, foundation and individual donors, to help our essential workforce and most vulnerable residents during these extraordinary times.

In collaboration with Barnabas, the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce initiated a Workforce Assistance Program and information hotline in which individuals who lost jobs and income and needed short term financial aid were screened for eligibility and referred to Barnabas. In order to meet the increased need for assistance with no additional staff, and do so in a safe way to protect our staff and clients, we had to rethink our operations and become more flexible and resourceful. We quickly transitioned from a face-to-face interview approach with clients to phone interviews and accepting applications and documentation electronically. This rapidly increased our capacity and expedited approval of financial assistance to help hundreds of individuals in crisis.

With investments and grants from the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Nassau County Board of Commissioners and the First Coast Relief Fund, Barnabas has been able to provide 320 individuals and families with $384,465 in financial assistance for rent, mortgage, utility and car payments to help stabilize them during this crisis. This represents more than a 200% increase in the average numbers of households helped prior to the coronavirus pandemic; and more than a 600% increase in the average amount of assistance per household.

The most significant need in general during the pandemic has been for emergency food assistance. Barnabas pivoted quickly to transition to a mobile drive through food pantry and mobile food distributions. With grants from the City of Fernandina Beach, and donations from churches, businesses, civic groups and individuals, Barnabas was able to purchase the critical food supply needed. Again, we were forced to be resourceful, and quickly developed partnerships for alternative food sources, including a farmer’s coop in Hastings, Fl, and national and regional food suppliers

And by partnering with many local churches and civic groups, including the Amelia Island Sunrise and Greater Nassau Rotary Clubs and the Elm Street Sportsmen’s Association, Barnabas was able to reach residents struggling to feed their families in all corners of the county; one-half of these residents reported that they had never had to seek food assistance before. More than 7,500 households were provided more than 333,000 meals of healthy food through 220 food distributions. This represented more than a 300% increase in the average number of households served prior to the pandemic.

As the only health care provider for uninsured adults in the county, Barnabas also continued to provide urgent medical and dental services to those in need, as well as provide telemedicine services to patients. With the enormous stress, anxiety and fear experienced by so many, one of the most critical needs has been mental health counseling. With grants from the Fernandina Beach City Commission and The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, Barnabas has been able to provide virtual counseling services at no cost to patients to ensure their emotional stability during these challenging times.

All through this pandemic while our energies and resources were focused on crisis relief, we have also continued to do the work that we would normally do, with modifications to protect the health and safety of our clients, patients, customers, staff and volunteers.

Some of the highlights of the past year include:

Baptist Medical Center Nassau and Baptist Health continued to be strong partners that enabled Barnabas to provide affordable health care to 1,400 lower income adults who were uninsured. Our goal is to improve their health through education and prevention, and
ensure they have access to medical and dental care, healthy food, and mental health and vision services. Baptist has been an extraordinary partner by providing diagnostic testing and other services to our uninsured patients at no cost. The value of their contribution back to our community last year was $2.8 million.

Through our strong partnership with the Nassau County Health Department, we became an approved provider of flu vaccines.

We also anticipate receiving a supply of Covid vaccine when there is supply available for the general public, and we will be vaccinating people thru our mobile health unit targeting hard to reach populations, ie., African American, low income and rural residents.

Although food assistance to families in need due to the pandemic was our highest priority this past year, we continued to provide food through our other food initiatives, including Meal Packs in which we provided weekend food for 207 children identified as “homeless” in the Nassau County School system. The Amelia Island Sunrise Rotary Club provided significant financial and volunteer support to allow us to continue to help these vulnerable kids.

We also expanded our Rx for Healthy Living initiative, which provides our diabetic patients with healthy food twice per month. We entered into a partnership with Jacksonville Fresh, which provides Barnabas with fresh produce weekly that is boxed and delivered by volunteers to patients who lack transportation to our center.

With all of our programs, our goal is to provide services in a comprehensive and integrated way so we can help individuals and families move beyond their crises to a level of stability. With our first Hope Builders program concluding in 2019, 20 women living in poverty graduated with improved skills and one-half of those were earning a living wage. With support by the Women’s Giving Alliance of a second grant, we began the Hope Builders for Women 2.0 initiative to help women move out of poverty and become stable and self-sufficient. Currently have 12 women enrolled.

Our New To You resale store is an essential part of our programs, providing significant unrestricted revenue to support our operations. As a means to financially support our expansion of services into west Nassau, we developed plans to open and operate a second resale store. We are leasing an existing facility in Yulee located at the corner of Highways 17 and 200, and the store is scheduled to open by early May of this year.

These are just a few of the highlights of the past year that were accomplished with our extraordinary partners, staff, volunteers and donors.

We thank all our partners and supporters – they are the fuel that keeps our engine running.


If you are interested in learning more about Barnabas, its programs and its volunteer opportunities, visit their website.

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