Statewide Peanut Butter Challenge sends nearly 20K jars to community food programs

The 2022 Peanut Butter Challenge didn’t go exactly to plan – with Hurricane Ian traveling across much of the state just days before the event’s Oct. 1 start – but participating counties still managed to collect over 13.5 tons of the nutritious spread to fill their local food pantries.

This included Lee County, where the strong category 4 storm made landfall and the local UF/IFAS Extension office that had intended to participate in the monthlong collection jumped into assisting with recovery efforts.

peanut butter jars
UF/IFAS Extension Okeechobee County showcased its 2022 peanut butter collection in the front office. This helped bring in donations from other units, like USDA, that share the building. (Photo by Paula Daniel, UF/IFAS Extension)

“Hurricane Ian had different plans just as our annual peanut butter drive was about to begin,” said Arielle Pierce, UF/IFAS Extension Lee County 4-H agent. “However, that didn’t stop the peanut butter from coming in, from near and far, to support those locally affected. Lee County 4-H hosted a Hurricane Relief Supply Drive that brought in peanut butter, among other supplies, and ultimately helped 4-H families, Master Gardeners, Lee County government staff and other community members.”

The county’s 108 jars may not take the year’s top collection in this friendly annual competition, but the Peanut Butter Challenge has always been measured by its helpfulness to the community, said Libbie Johnson, UF/IFAS Extension Santa Rosa County agriculture agent and co-organizer of the event since it began in the Panhandle counties in 2012.

Desiree Marin from Suwannee Pointe Apartments delivers donations from the residents there, the majority of whom are income challenged themselves. A selfless donation, notes Amanda Phillips (photo credit), UF/IFAS Extension Suwannee County commercial crops agent.

“All of the peanut butter collected goes to local food banks, backpack programs and other services that support our neighbors through difficult times,” Johnson said. “It feels like such a small thing – to collect peanut butter jars – but it’s meaningful to the local families who may be needing the extra support, especially during the holiday season.”

Santa Rosa County, the winner of the 2022 competition, collected 2,056 jars for 2,657 pounds of the spread. Hernando County was just shy of the top spot, with 2,238 pounds; and Escambia (1,981 pounds), Madison (1,578 pounds) and Jefferson (1,567 pounds) counties rounded out an impressive top 5.

The 27,258 pounds collected across 42 counties, including partnering Florida A&M University, is on par with the first year the collection went statewide in 2020, despite a shortened October-only timeframe and fewer participants. Some counties that had planned to collect in 2022 were unable due to Hurricane Ian and its timing.

Still, the entire 2022 collection of peanut butter could make over 400,000 sandwiches.

The Challenge’s founders focused on peanut butter because it is a popular food pantry item thanks to its shelf stability and nutrient density. The Challenge also highlights the product’s Florida origins: peanuts are grown across some 165,000 acres of the state (per 2020 estimates from USDA), mainly in the northern counties.

Adding to the donation totals are the Florida Peanut Producers Association and Florida Peanut Federation, which have partnered with the project for years. Each organization contributes pallets of jars to food pantries in the peanut-producing regions of the state where they are based.

The Peanut Butter Challenge will return again in October 2023. Follow your local county Extension office on social media and check to stay updated.

County coordinators of the Peanut Butter Challenge also shared some success stories:

Pasco County (1,200 pounds) received help from Pasco Schools Wiregrass Ranch High School Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Club and their teacher Donna Fraser, who delivered the donations to One Stop Shop. (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Urquiola, UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County)
  • Collier County (104 pounds) worked with the library system to collect donations.
  • Franklin County (799 pounds) had a National Honor Society student at Franklin County High School spearhead the drive as a Senior Honors Project, collecting 550 pounds from his school alone.
  • Hernando County invited organizations from more rural areas of the county to receive donations to ensure the proceeds were “spread” as far as possible.
  • Nassau County (150 pounds) shared a story of a donor who tearfully expressed thanks that they could be involved in helping the local community.
  • Okeechobee County (917 pounds) 4-H partnered with Okeechobee Christian Academy and together surpassed their goal of collecting more than the previous year – by more than 40% overall.
  • Orange County (1,229 pounds) distributed to six food banks across the county, including the Conway United Methodist ChurchThe Impact Outreach Ministry of Central FloridaThe Russell Home for Atypical ChildrenPershing K-8 Family Food PantryServant’s Heart Ministry, and Timber Springs Middle School Family Food Pantry
  • Pinellas County (97 pounds) noted one kind donation of 57 jars.
  • Suwannee County (156 pounds) 4-H groups competed to collect the most jars, with D.E.V.O.T.E.D collecting 126 pounds for the win.
  • Taylor County (265 pounds) partnered with the local Ace Hardware store to collect jars.
  • Washington County (339 pounds) saw the AWANA children’s program at First Baptist Church Chipley hold a friendly competition among age groups to bring in the most peanut butter. Overall, 168 jars of peanut butter were collected and distributed to several new food pantries that broadened access for residents who might be unable to travel to the food pantry in Chipley.

Posted: December 12, 2022

Category: Events, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Food Insecurity, Food Is Our Middle Name, Libbie Johnson, Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter Challenge

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