Thank You for Feeding Our Children: “Dinner on the Grounds” Fundraiser’s Success Shows Pensacola’s Huge Heart for Local Food Deserts
Peter Mougey, a local attorney with Levin Papantonio Rafferty Proctor Buchanan O’Brien Barr & Mougey, P.A. (LPR), has a message of gratitude for Pensacola: “Thank you for feeding our children.”
Mougey and his wife, Katrina, along with the law firm, were sponsors of the Heart of Pensacola “Dinner on the Grounds” fundraiser event held on April 14. Based on a Southern farm-to-table gathering that started in the 1930s (by people who really knew about hard times), this event generated more than $530,000 to help those in need and to combat nutritional inequality in Escambia County.
Proceeds from the event will help provide healthful food to those who live in local “food deserts” (neighborhoods with no or low access to fresh produce and healthy foods) and will benefit the American Heart Association’s education and research efforts.
“It is deeply distressing that a high percentage of our community’s children must go to bed and school hungry,” says Mougey, an LPR senior partner, philanthropist, and driver for social change. “It’s unacceptable, especially in an area that has enjoyed so much success. That’s why I was so gratified by the outcome of this event. The community didn’t just ‘show up.’ You opened your hearts in an amazing way and raised much more money than we ever anticipated.”
The help is desperately needed. Seventy-five percent of the children in Escambia County qualify for free or reduced lunches, and many often don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Sixty-two percent of Escambia County residents live in “food deserts.” And due in part to that lack of access, 60 percent of our community suffers from obesity, and 40 percent of adults suffer from heart disease.
Healthy produce is expensive, and costs continue to rise. Currently, about 35 percent of people with low incomes also experience low access to healthy foods. There are even neighborhoods locally where that number exceeds 50 percent.
“We tend to think of hunger as something that happens ‘somewhere else,’” says Mougey. “It’s hard to imagine so many of our young people must study for tests on an empty stomach not knowing where their next meal will come from. It’s hard to believe so many families are forced to fill up on empty calories that perpetuate a cycle of ongoing health problems.”
Heart of Pensacola—which the Mougeys co-founded with the American Heart Association (AHA) and other leaders—already provides weekly boxes and backpacks of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy snacks to more than 500 families in our community. School-aged children receive a weekly backpack filled with nutritious food to get them through the weekend. The proceeds from Dinner on the Grounds will help expand these efforts.
In addition, Heart of Pensacola supporters had previously raised approximately $350,000 in cash and $500,000 in “in kind” donations over the past six months—which, when added to the Dinner on the Grounds proceeds, brings the total to approximately $1,380,000.
Mougey says the outpouring of support from the community has been amazing. “People helped with Dinner on the Grounds in countless ways besides buying a ticket to the event,” he says. “They gave money and volunteered their time, energy, creativity, and brainpower. Many citizens have been inspired by what’s happened so far and are looking for ways to be actively engaged.”
The fundraising is just the first step. Next comes implementation, including a strong education component designed to teach people in our community about food.
“Dinner on the Grounds was more than an event; it was the start of a movement,” he says. “It took on a life of its own. All kinds of different groups in our community came together and created their own synergy. We are now all connected in a new way.”
Mougey adds that he’s learned a lot about Pensacola’s giving spirit and the importance of community from the success of this event and all the activities that led up to it:
Community matters (perhaps more than ever). “This fundraising event set records for Pensacola,” says Mougey. “If we’ve learned anything from the past two years, it’s to embrace and appreciate the important things in life. This is our home. Our fellow citizens are our family. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to create a better Pensacola.”
Nutritional equality is the foundation for a thriving community. Food is the fuel that powers a citizen’s climb out of poverty. It’s linked to long-term health, educational outcomes, and successful lives. We can’t afford to ignore it.
We must leave no citizen behind. “Pensacola can’t continue the pace of success we’re enjoying when large segments of the community struggle with food insecurity,” says Mougey. “This is not just a matter of conscience. It’s unsustainable from an economic standpoint.”
It really does take a village. This is only one event in an ongoing effort. Heart of Pensacola joins forces with an array of organizations to feed hungry families year-round: AHA, LPR, Manna, Baptist Hospital, Health & Hope Clinic, Community Health Northwest Florida, Studer Community Institute, Escambia County School District, and Pensacola Big Game Fishing Club to name just a few. Great collaboration is the key.
Every child is our child. This is how we need to see all the children of Pensacola, says Mougey. “As citizens, our community is our responsibility,” he adds. “When we shift our mindset to one of ownership, it spurs us to take real action. Our values won’t allow us not to do something to help the most vulnerable among us.”
Be the one. It is easy to express concern about issues like nutritional inequality and assume “someone else” will fix them, says Mougey. His message is simple: “Don’t wait. That someone else may never show up. Be the one who gets things done. If not you, then who? If not now, then when? Please answer the call.”
Never underestimate the power of an engaged community. Looking at what we’ve accomplished so far, it’s clear that Pensacola is a force to be reckoned with. There is much we can do to lift up those who are struggling. We’ve shown how much we care…let’s keep the momentum going.
“I’d like to give a special shout-out to the top sponsors of Dinner on the Grounds as well as to the restaurants and chefs who shared their culinary gifts with attendees,” adds Mougey. “They all played a pivotal role in the success of this event.”
Participating Restaurants and Chefs
Noah Tomko, Chef de Partie, Boka, Chicago, IL
John Huggins, Chef de Cuisine, The Fish House
Jason Duckworth, Executive Chef, Seville Quarter
Daniel Watts, Executive Chef, Classic City Catering
Amy Potmesil, Executive Chef, The Well
Rudy Rudolph, Executive Chef, Pensacola Yacht Club
Jody Salway, Executive Pastry Chef, The Macaron Ladies
Justine Gudmundson-McCain, Executive Pastry Chef, Bluejay’s Bakery
Jordan Hewes, Executive Chef, Craft Gourmet Bakery
Levin Papantonio Rafferty
HCA Florida West Hospital
Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital
Baptist Health Care
Florida Power & Light
Step One Automotive Group
By coming together full force to solve the problem of nutritional inequality, says Mougey, Pensacola has shown that it’s an engaged, involved, compassionate community.
“We’ve shown how much we care,” he says. “Now, let’s keep working to ensure our efforts make the most impact on the health, education, and long-term well-being of all Pensacola citizens.”
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About Levin Papantonio Rafferty
The personal injury law firm Levin Papantonio Rafferty Proctor Buchanan O’Brien Barr & Mougey, P.A., has been representing the injured people of Pensacola since 1955. The firm supports and encourages its 200 employees to engage in extensive community outreach. To date, LPR employees have donated more than $75 million to charity, as well as tens of thousands of hours of their time.