WOW! Thank you Chick-Fil-A for this generous surprise!

ORANGE PARK – It started out as just another Friday morning at the Waste Not Want Not headquarters in Orange Park.

Dedicated volunteers were packing up 5,000 to 7,000 pounds of food from restaurants, farms, grocery stores and anywhere else that produces surplus food. The donated surpluses were about to be redistributed to other nonprofits in 14 counties across the state, matching the specific nutritional needs of each supplier.

Then, representatives from the Orange Park Chick-fil-A on 1925 Wells Road arrived with breakfast for the hardworking volunteers on shift. The Wells Road Chick-fil-A, along with other area franchises, is in its seven-year partnership with the county-based nonprofit through the restaurant’s Shared Table program to help feed the hungry.

But after Volunteer Director Linda McKenzie finished her tour guiding Craig Phillips, Owner and Operator of the Wells Road Chick-fil-A, she walked out to the parking lot and knew something was up. She could tell that something very special was about to happen. Employees were holding balloons, and a Chick-fil-A cow mascot rushed her with a massive check in hand.

McKenzie saw the check reading $1,000 initially. Then, she realized that she imagined the two trailing decimal points.

The check read $100,000.

McKenzie, Executive Director Sandra Staudt-Killea and the many volunteers realized they had hit the nonprofit lottery. Waste Not Want Not was selected as one of seven nonprofits among 1,200 across the United States and Canada that rescue surplus foods from the national chain restaurant. It was part of Chick-fil-A’s $1 million philanthropic effort to address food insecurity.

Feeding America and Second Rescue in Canada also received a generation donation.

When asked about the significance of the donation, Staudt-Killea couldn’t help but gush about the surprising, heartfelt nature of the gift.

“This is just a true, from-the-heart gift. It’s different than receiving a grant, which you have to complete paperwork and apply for,” she said.

But how the nonprofit will dedicate the donation will be a discussion for another day.

“We’re going to have to sit down with the board and dream big with this. We really have to think about how to best use this gift to honor both their mission and ours,” Staudt-Killea said.

She delved deeper into what the donation means to the nonprofit, which, founded in 1990, has a longstanding, reputable, 33-year tenure in the county. Between Chick-fil-A and Waste Not Want Not, the organizations have provided over 46,000 meals to the community.

“We haven’t even really allowed ourselves to envision how many people we could feed yet because never in our wildest dreams would we have expected that (the $100,000 donation) would fall into our laps,” she said.

The impact of the donation transcends monetary value. It will reinvigorate the nonprofit’s mission in the county and state.

“This is a shot in the arm. This is great because our volunteers work so hard. We’re the reliable picker-upper and helping Chick-fil-A accomplish their goals as well,” Staudt-Killea said.

Volunteers work 363 days a year. Their only off days are Thanksgiving and Christmas. The committed individuals drive to the Orange Park Chick-fil-A and other franchises in the Jacksonville area to pick up excess food.

Their partnership with Chick-fil-A involves rescuing various items, including salads, wraps, biscuits and bounties of chicken. Then, those items are distributed with thoughtfulness in mind. Salads and wraps are sent to after-school programs, and chicken biscuits, nuggets and breasts are delivered to the homeless.

The food makes its way to a soup kitchen in Putnam County, among several other locations, where frequently, it is creatively crafted into a new recipe. Biscuits become delicious breakfast casseroles, and nuggets are reimagined into savory teriyaki stir-fries.

“The support we get from Chick-fil-A aligns with our mission. Their Shared Table program helps prevent waste, protect the environment, and, most importantly, feed hungry people. Those three principles align (so much) with what we do, and that’s why it’s a great partnership.”

The seven-year alliance between Chick-fil-A and the county nonprofit is one of hope, built through sacrifice to the community through partnership, embodying charity and goodwill.

“Our Chick-fil-A restaurant strives to be a beacon of light in the Orange Park community, and the Chick-fil-A Shared Table Program gives us a great opportunity to do that. Food insecurity is a critical issue for so many of our neighbors, and it’s a privilege to donate our surplus food to Waste Not Want Not so we can feed those in need in our community. We look forward to seeing how this $100,000 donation will help them have an even greater impact,” Phillips said.