Published on November 25, 2014

One of Us: Drew Portell's Eagle Scout project will help feed the hungryDrew Portell (left) donates to St. Vincent's food pantry

By: Charlie Patton

It’s a rare 17-year-old who walks into his neighborhood Winn-Dixie and places an order for $1,000 worth of food.
That’s what Drew Portell, a senior at Bishop Snyder High School, did a couple of weeks ago when he visited the Lakewood Winn-Dixie.

For his Eagle Scout project, he raised the $1,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on He then dropped off the food at the food pantry at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. He also collected and donated food that had been dropped off in bins he placed at Bishop Snyder and at meetings of his Boy Scout troop.

Paula Bides, director of mission engagement for St. Vincent’s HealthCare, said Portell’s donation should feed about 120 families in the next month. “I think he’s really raised awareness about these issues in our community, about the fact that people are hungry,” she said.

“It was a lot of fun,” Portell said. “It was a new experience. I enjoyed it a lot.”

Besides scouting, Portell’s interests include playing the video game Assassin’s Creed on his Xbox, lifting weights and doing mission trips with members of his church, Southside United Methodist Church. He played football for three years at Bishop Snyder but missed this season because of a concussion. He plans to attend Campbell University in North Carolina next year and wants to major in mathematics.

Portell said when he was deciding on an Eagle Scout project, “I wanted to help my community in some way.”

He knew about the food pantry at St. Vincent’s Riverside because his mother, Claudia Portell, works for St. Vincent’s HealthCare.

Bides said the food pantry was established in the 1960s by nuns with the Daughters of Charity. “We feed anybody in the community who is in need,” she said.

Although St. Vincent’s Riverside is in a fairly affluent neighborhood just a few blocks from the Riverside Publix, it is the 32204 ZIP code area, one of five ZIP codes that make up the Florida Department of Health in Duval County’s Health Zone 1.

The health department classifies Health Zone 1, which covers large swatches of Jacksonville north of Interstate 10, east of Interstate 295, west of the St. Johns River and south of 44th Street and Moncrief Road, as a food desert.

The pantry, which is open from 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and from 1-3 p.m. Thursdays, is visited by about 30 families each day. Families that have qualified can visit once a month, Bides said.

“This is a huge time of need,” she said.

Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413