Week 23: Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida (Volunteering in Orlando)

 

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My husband and I are visiting Orlando for vacation this week and wanted to include some sort of volunteering activity into our trip. There are tons of places to volunteer in Orlando. The trick was finding an organization that needed help during the few days we were here. Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida made signing up a snap and they utilize a great number of volunteers each day so there was room in their schedule for two more!

IMG_1807The vision of Second Harvest is to inspire and engage the community to end hunger. They do this in both traditional and innovative ways. As a private, non-profit organization, Second Harvest collects, stores and distributes food to over 550 local non-profit feeding programs in 6 counties. Recipients include emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless and battered women’s shelters, senior programs, salvation army centers, group homes and more. The sheer number of recipient organizations and the amount of food that is distributed are impressive. In 2016 Second Harvest provided 43 million meals to families, children and seniors in Central Florida.

 

When we arrived at Second Harvest this morning we were surprised at the size of the facility. Over 100,000 sq. feet of space housed the offices, a humongous warehouse with shelves and shelves of food for distribution, and a 2,000 foot culinary kitchen. There were a few groups of volunteers from local companies and then about 10 of us who were individual volunteers. My husband and I had signed up to help sort incoming donations.

After a warm welcome and an informational video we were out on the floor learning how to sort through the donated food and pack it into boxes ready for distribution. Once our initial training was over it was time to do the work! The staff was fantastic – helpful, funny and patient.

 

In addition to the intake, sorting and distribution of donated food, Second Harvest organizes a wide number of programs, some of which include:

  • Their “Food for Thought” tours educates the public on hunger in Central Florida and Second Harvest’s role in fighting that hunger.
  • Their Mobile Food Drop Program distributes fresh produce and other nutritious food 4 x/week to underserved communities. They currently transport at least 10,000 – 20,000 pounds of fruit, vegetables and dry goods directly to each community a year.
  • Their Benefits Connection program assists households in applying for and accessing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as ‘Food Stamps’). A large number of qualified individuals and families have difficulty applying for these benefits due to factors such as: a lack of access to computers, a lack of skills to navigate online applications, a lack of awareness or misinformation regarding eligibility for SNAP assistance, and language/literacy barriers.
  • They partner with Universal Orlando and the Universal Orlando Foundation to bring a program called “Bites, Camera, Action!” to local elementary and middle schools as well as community sites. A mobile nutrition program.

 

IMG_1810I am in love with one of their most innovative programs – their Culinary Training Program – which provides at-risk and economically disadvantaged adults with culinary and life skills training and support so they can pursue sustainable careers in the food industry. The 14-week, full-day program offers extensive hands-on experience in their 2,000 square foot commercial kitchen (on site at their headquarters/warehouse). Students not only learn to prepare food, they also learn food safety/sanitation, inventory and cost control, staffing, production in high-volume kitchens, and how to run the warehouse. While enrolled, the students prepare food for catered events and also create fresh meals which are delivered to local early education and private/charter schools, senior feeding programs and group homes. The program also trains students on appropriate work behavior, resume creation, interview skills, household budgeting, stress relief and time management.

 

Second Harvest liaisons help students overcome barriers that could prevent them fromIMG_1805 finishing the program, such as lack of food or housing, transportation, childcare and medical/mental health needs. Second Harvest also helps students with job placement. Their social services program then tracks each student’s progress for two years after graduation, assisting them with GED, college application and continued job placement assistance. Second Harvest’s goal is to “shorten the line” – to lessen the number of people who are food insecure by helping them develop the skills and opportunities they need to get on their feet and find financial success.

 

It is a very impressive program and much needed in Central Florida, where the National Restaurant Association reports more than 7,700 restaurants exist and over 30,000 jobs have been added in that industry in the last five years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate 12.8% of Central Florida’s workers are employed in the restaurant industry.

 

During our few hours working in the warehouse sorting food we were humbled by the volume and variety of donations. Donations from individuals, groups, organizations and companies flood the shelves. Second Harvest utilizes dozens of volunteers in each of multiple shifts per day. In fact, between July 2016 and the end of June 2017 Second Harvest worked with over 34,300 volunteers who put in over 107,000 hours.

 

IMG_1788During the welcome video at the start of the day, a volunteer with a recipient organization shared a story about a family (mother and five children) whose power had been turned off and all their food in the fridge had spoiled. The volunteer called Second Harvest asking for help and they immediately sent over enough food to feed the family. One of the family’s children said, “You must work for God. I prayed that someone would help my mommy feed us.” Hunger is real. One in 6 people are food insecure in Central Florida. Second Harvest is a blessing to these communities and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to play a minuscule part in their efforts to help support and feed the hungry.

To learn more about Second Harvest, please click this link to visit their website:  Second_Harvest_Food_Bank

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