Peanut butter and jelly. PB and J. It’s a childhood staple experienced by most Americans, regardless of geography, economic status or generation. Quite candidly, I grew up on a diet heavy with PB and J through my high school and college years!
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches first became widely popular after World War II, when the main ingredients — peanut butter, jelly and sliced bread — were part of standard military rations. When soldiers came home, they passed along the good-for-you, tasty, inexpensive food to their children.
Many of us can remember eating PB&J sandwiches for lunch at school or maybe as an after-school snack. Not much has changed for children today. The average child will eat 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before he or she graduates from high school, according to the Peanut Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting nutrition research about peanuts. It’s a great source of key nutrients, with each ounce containing 7 grams of protein and 10 percent of the recommended daily amount of fiber, according to Feeding America.
That brings us to the Northwest Florida Peanut Butter Challenge. Across northwest Florida, about 14 to 24 percent of the population lacks access to affordable, nutritious food, depending on the county, according to Feeding America. Gadsden County tops the list at 24.4 percent. UF/IFAS Extension faculty are working to provide food access to more people and stem that tide of hunger.
When UF/IFAS Extension faculty in northwest Florida took note of these hunger challenges in their local communities, they thought of peanut butter. What better way to stock community food banks than with jars and jars of peanut butter?
A top priority of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to make sure everyone has access to ample, nutritious food to eat. So, in 2012, the Peanut Butter Challenge was launched as UF/IFAS Extension faculty and volunteers in most of the 16 counties in the Florida Panhandle gathered donations of unopened jars of peanut butter to deliver to area food banks.
The tradition continues today.
This fall, Extension faculty across the Panhandle are actively promoting the Peanut Butter Challenge. They’re speaking to 4-H clubs, PTAs, church congregations, civic groups — essentially anywhere they can find an audience to seek donations of unopened peanut butter jars. You might even see them and others in the community wearing stickers on their shirts saying “Peanut Butter Champion.”
Our friends at the Florida Peanut Producers Association match the peanut butter donations. Last year, people in Panhandle communities gave 3,236 pounds of peanut butter, while the peanut producers gifted 3,000 lbs. Those donations literally supported hundreds of families in our local Florida communities.
I’m proud of this and other similar community service efforts by our UF/IFAS Extension faculty and staff. We are part of your community, your neighbors, and your friends. We teach a lot about community service and engagement through the educational programs we conduct every day. This Peanut Butter Challenge is an excellent example of ways that our Extension faculty and staff give back to the people and communities that we are serving each and every day.
To donate, look for your UF/IFAS Extension county office here. You’ll find your nearest donation site there. We hope you join the Peanut Butter Challenge and be someone’s Peanut Butter Champion.
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