conch: n. marine shellfish or people of the Keys symbolizing the beautiful island chain. Both need protection.

Conch salad, fritters, chowder. The tasty meat can be found in just about any restaurant in the Florida Keys. The iconic shellfish also serves as the moniker for the Key West High School athletic teams. Babies born in the Keys receive Conch Republic birth certificates and transplants with more than 7 years of island living earn the title, “fresh water conchs.”

For centuries people of the Florida Keys relied upon the queen conch for food and its large shell for tools, but as demand increased, resources were exhausted and the harvesting on the shellfish in state and federal waters was officially banned in 1986.
These days, our conch for fritters, soup, and sandwiches is imported from Jamaica, the Bahamas, or South America and like this important staple – the labor force of America’s southernmost county is becoming increasingly dependent on out-of-town workers. Each day the smoggy JGT busses pipe dozens of workers down US 1 to work at our restaurants, stores, and gas stations.

Realizing the need to preserve our workforce, the altruistic folks at the Salvation Army have launched a new campaign, “Save the Conchs,” to help those middle and lower class workers make ends meet in the lean summer months.
“Our goal is to help those who are already working, but need help paying their rent when times get tough,” said Sheron Grossman, the campaign’s organizer and Salvation Army volunteer. “This is not charity. We are helping those members of our community who go to work everyday, but are faced with the decision to either put food on their table, pay their rent, or receive medical treatment.”

Grossman said more than 1,000 people on a 2 to 4 year waiting list for affordable housing and many members of the community will definitely need rental assistance in August and September.

“The Marathon Salvation Army regularly allocates $600 to $1000 a month for assistance, but many people are still falling through the cracks because of state and federal cutbacks,” she said. “If we can help a public school worker by subsidizing $200 of rent for a couple of months, that could give someone enough hope to make it through the tough financial times, or until they secure affordable housing.”

On July 19, Save the Conchs will host an 80’s prom dance at the Marathon Jaycee Building and a King & Queen will be crowned based on their fundraising ability. Many members of the community have already pledged their assistance and the prospective court is already raking in the cash. Learn more about the candidates on page 15.

To purchase tickets to the event or to simply make a donation, call (305) 289-9476. Otherwise, you might as well get used to bagging your own groceries, home-schooling your kids, and enjoying the thick black smog created by the JGT buses.

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