The need for hunger relief in our community is greater than ever before. Local organizations are rallying to respond – but they need our help.
When the world seemed to stop spinning in early 2020...
When there was a sudden pause in life as most knew it...
When Central Florida became one of the economically hardest-hit regions in the nation...
The helpers were called to action – and they answered, just as they do every day.
Whether securing thousands of pounds of food for those unexpectedly unemployed or providing rent assistance to prevent families from experiencing homelessness, local charitable organizations throughout Seminole County served the community with an urgency they had never experienced to meet a demand unlike any other.
Because the need never stopped, it simply multiplied.
According to Map the Meal Gap 2020, a national survey conducted by Feeding America, the number of Central Floridians who are food insecure could rise by 49 percent this year.
“The pandemic created a situation that we have not experienced since the Great Recession, and its impact has been dramatically different than any disaster we have ever dealt with,” says Dan Samuels, director of philanthropy at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. “For instance, a hurricane could greatly impact one area, but not the entire state, and we usually have partners that come in to support us in a time of need. The effects of the pandemic are so different because it’s a global crisis, so the need is much greater, long-lasting, and widespread. This is not a short-term event, it’s a marathon. We’ve always been able to take care of ourselves, but we realized we really needed help.”
Dan reports that many local residents served by Second Harvest Food Bank this year are facing food insecurity for the first time.
“During this time of uncertainty, we want people to focus on getting back on their feet and addressing their other responsibilities like rent, transportation, and childcare,” Dan says. “We can take care of the food.”
Since mid-March, organizations like Second Harvest and Harvest Time International have been leaning on government and corporate partners to rapidly increase their daily distribution, dispersing enough food for hundreds of thousands of meals each day.
On average, every $1 donation to these organizations becomes $9 worth of food.
They also count on the generosity of volunteers, many of whom were unable to donate their time early in the pandemic due to health and safety concerns.
“At one point, our volunteer workforce was down to zero,” says Andre Smolinsky, COO/CFO of Harvest Time International in Sanford. “But we didn’t even think about closing. We couldn’t, the need was too great and steadily increasing each day.”
That’s when the area’s largest hunger-relief organizations turned to their local community partners like The Sharing Center, HOPE Helps, and East Coast Believers Church to reach residents in need.
“We rely on local partners on the ground in hard-hit communities to help us locate the pockets that need help,” Dan says. “Throughout this experience, it has become even more clear that we live in an incredibly caring community that takes care of its own. The number of people who have stepped up to support their neighbors has been mind-blowing and humbling at the same time. Now, it is our job to be good stewards of that generosity and tell the stories of the people we are helping.”
Those stories include a single mother of three who lost both of her jobs in the hospitality industry within a week, a family that was living in its car due to financial challenges, and thousands of other stories just like them in Seminole County alone.
“Dad, are we going to eat today?”
“Homelessness and food insecurity go hand-in-hand, and that statistic has become even more evident this year,” explains Nina Yon, president/CEO of The Sharing Center in Longwood. “We had to pivot very quickly to serve the community, because we can’t NOT serve those in need – that’s why we’re here, to step in when they need us most. From food and clothing to rent assistance and mental health counseling, we were determined to continue to provide the life essentials our clients need to sustain during this challenging time.
While they were feverishly serving the community, many charitable organizations were also facing the realization that their annual budgets and fundraisers were in jeopardy due to pandemic-related quarantines and crowd restrictions. But they found creative ways to soldier on, transitioning to virtual events, electronic communications, and live social-media broadcasts that allowed them to connect with clients, volunteers, and community supporters.
“Our first priority was to immediately address the changes that needed to be made to keep our clients and staff safe,” says Joan Faulkner, president/CEO of HOPE Helps, Inc. in Oviedo, which runs east Seminole County’s largest food bank. “We attacked that quickly and made changes to how and when we serve – including stopping food pantry visits and moving to prepackaged food boxes that are distributed outside – so that we could continue to meet the needs of the community. These last few months have shown the spirit of perseverance. We are all bearing witness to the heart of generosity.”
Regina Bereswill, founder of Oviedo’s Helpful Hands, Inc. says that despite not being able to host some of the organization’s fundraising events this year, they were able to cut their operating budget in half to ensure they would be able to continue their mission into 2021.
“In March, we went to our community partners that focus on teaching children life skills so we could provide kids access to sports and social programs, giving them a much-needed distraction from the pandemic and challenges at home,” Regina says. “We simply shifted our focus to meet the needs of the families we serve. Our mission is to enhance the quality of life of children and families in our local community who are in crisis, and we weren’t going to let the pandemic deter us from it.”
And that may be one of the greatest lessons learned from the pandemic of 2020: The mission will never end, because the need will continue, and the helpers will always answer the call.
“Even when the church closed its doors during quarantine, we had amazing charitable participation from the parishioners,” says Jim Lynch, staff pastor at East Coast Believers Church in Oviedo. “This pandemic has offered us an opportunity to not only feed our community, but to also come together to show our neighbors an outward display of the love of Christ in us. When people are deciding whether to pay rent or buy food, go ahead and pay rent – we will make sure your family is fed.”
How Can You Help? Donate, Volunteer, or Support an Upcoming Fundraiser...
Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida
Visit FeedHopeNow.org to see the latest statistics about food insecurity throughout Central Florida and discover multiple ways to donate or volunteer.
HopeHelps.org is the best place to stay up-to-date on HOPE’s two remaining major events in 2020, the Vision for HOPE virtual fundraiser on November 5, and the Christmas in the City distribution event. The site also has links to donate, request assistance, or inquire about job openings at the organization.
Harvest Time International
At HarvestTime.org, you can stay up-to-date about the operating hours of Harvest Time’s Community Hope Center and food bank in Sanford. Via the site, you can request help or sign up to donate products, food, or funds.
At HelpfulHands.org, you can donate to the organization or sign up to volunteer. The Events tab also includes links to RSVP for fundraising events including A Day of Golf at Isleworth on December 7.
The Sharing Center
TheSharingCenter.org home page will help you obtain the latest information about the operational status of The Sharing Center’s donation center, food pantry, homeless relief center, thrift stores, and its business offices. Just click Find Agency Updates. The site also lists urgently needed supplies and provides multiple ways to donate.
East Coast Believers Church
Want More Information?
At EastCoastBelievers.org, click Giving –> Give Now –> Select the Oviedo campus –> in the Fund dropdown menu, you can contribute directly to the church’s COVID-19 Relief fund.