Florida Foodie: Grassroots effort to get food to people in need during the pandemic

Karen Zielke shares how the community got involved in effort to help others

CHULUOTA, Fla. – A news report on farms losing business because of the pandemic inspired Karen and Mike Zielke to get out and start helping their community.

“My husband said ‘we should take our trailer and go buy up a bunch of vegetables and just come back on this side of town and hand ‘em out,’” Karen Zielke said. “And I thought, ‘well, that’s pretty crazy.’”

Despite that, the Zielkes moved forward with the plan to start the Chuluota Free Vegetable Distribution. Karen took the lead on logistics as her husband’s job as a pilot often keeps him out of the area.

With no real experience in food distribution, the pair were winging it, buying up produce from Long & Scott Farms in Mount Dora and asking their local VFW Post to host their distribution. The distribution quickly became a community event with friends and neighbors donating money and Publix offering up bags for all the produce.

“Even with the first one we didn’t have to foot the bill by ourselves, people were donating before we bought the first vegetables,” Karen Zielke said. “That was very nice.”

From there, the event grew with some people offering up eggs from their backyard chickens, others offering up leftover baked goods from grocery stores.

“Just recently we added a dry pantry section,” Karen Zielke said. “There’s a lady in Chuluota who had built a little free pantry at the end of her driveway. She had so many people who wanted to donate to it and it wasn’t big enough for everyone to donate that wanted to. So she said ‘why don’t we go on the road and join the vegetable distribution.”

Karen Zielke joins Florida Foodie to talk more about her and her husband’s vegetable distribution and how it is growing. She also talks about her plans for the future and how she would like to continue helping to feed people.

Anyone looking to donate to the Chuluota Free Vegetable Distribution can email Karen Zielke at kwzielke@aol.com.

Be sure to follow our host, News 6 anchor Candace Campos, on Twitter and Facebook.

Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere.

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About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.