UF/IFAS Peanut Butter Challenge collects over 13 tons statewide

The 2020 University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Peanut Butter Challenge collected just over 27,000 pounds of peanut butter across 53 counties, all of which will fill participating counties’ food banks this holiday season.

This year marks the first in which the event fully expanded beyond the Florida Panhandle, where it has been held annually since 2012. The only county outside the Panhandle to participate previously was Indian River in 2019.

josie counce

Second grader Josie Counce collected 162 jars of peanut butter for those in need through Wakulla County’s 4-H program — photo courtesy IFAS

The premise of the event is simple: From Oct. 1 until the day before Thanksgiving, participating counties collect jars of peanut butter, often with plenty of help from the local community and organizations. At the end of the event, the collections are tallied, bragging rights earned and the jars are distributed to local food pantries to feed neighbors in need during the holiday season.

This year’s top collector has some experience: Escambia County, with 2,191 jars weighing in at 2,867.5 pounds. The county’s collection is further boosted by an additional 2,880 jars, generously donated by a pair of local farmers, Rodney and Mike Helton.

“The Peanut Butter Challenge continues to raise awareness of the importance of the state peanut industry, and helps provide a healthy product to families who do not have easy access to nutritious food,” said Libbie Johnson, agricultural agent for UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County and co-organizer of the challenge since its inception. “Our communities come through year after year with tremendous responses to our calls for peanut butter donations, and we thank them.”

Peanut butter is an ever-popular item in food pantries for its nutrient density and shelf stability. The project’s expansion this year was partially inspired by the increased demand for food bank assistance as an economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By the numbers:
• 53 participating counties
• 27,043.6 total pounds collected
• 20,107 total jars collected
• All told, this year’s Peanut Butter Challenge can make nearly half a million peanut butter sandwiches!
County coordinators of the Peanut Butter Challenge also shared some success stories:

• Jefferson County had tremendous community participation but specifically noted a small private school, Aucilla Christian Academy, for collecting an astounding 593 pounds in just two short weeks. The pre-K through fifth-grade classes competed to collect the most peanut butter. The winner, Mrs. Heslin’s fifth-grade class, collected 92 pounds.

• A Levy County school, Bronson Elementary, posted on Facebook that students were running a peanut butter drive. As the UF/IFAS Extension office later found out, they were collecting the peanut butter as part of the Peanut Butter Challenge. The third-, fourth- and fifth-grade “Eagles Helping Eagles” group managed to collect 875 pounds. This astounding collection helped give Levy County the narrow lead in the UF/IFAS Extension Northeast District, just 4 pounds ahead of runner-up Alachua County.

• Okeechobee County’s 4-H clubs used this as their community service learning project for the first half of the 4-H year. The Okeechobee County Schools food service department received the donated jars, which will go to local families at its next mobile food distribution event.

okeechobee county peanut butter drive

Some of Okeechobee County’s collection for the 2020 Peanut Butter Challenge, arranged in a “4-H” to recognize the youth that spearheaded much of the collection effort — photo courtesy of Paula Daniel, UF/IFAS

• The director of UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County shared his amazement at his community’s support: ifas.ufl.edu/pinellasco/2020/12/10/peanut-butter-challenge.

• Suwannee County’s local Farm Bureau donated $500 worth of peanut butter to the challenge, along with an additional $125 worth from county stakeholders.

• Walton County gives credit to its Sheriff’s Department, local county offices and Food For Thought for contributing to the county’s collection effort.

• Citrus, Collier, Orange and Martin counties also noted some humorous incidents of finding complementary items in their peanut butter donation boxes: jelly, crackers and even a jar of cookie butter! These were not included in the collection totals.

The University of Florida contributed this article.