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‘We’re all in it together:' Orlando food pantry meets increasing need

Stephanie Bowman overcame adversity eventually starting nonprofit One Heart for Women and Children

It’s no secret Central Florida has been hit hard by the economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Millions of jobs have been lost and people are in need.

But we’ve also seen the community step up. People like Stephanie Bowman who founded One Heart For Women and Children in College Park.

Bowman has been helping families in need for years but she says the last few months have been unprecedented.

“Fifteen weeks ago COVID-19 started and everything drastically changed here at One Heart,” Bowman said.

She says lately her pantry full of food just doesn’t last quite as long.

“Prior to COVID-19 we were helping about 3,000 people each month and now we’re helping over 20,000 people.”

A steady stream of cars lines the street in front of a small warehouse on Rio Grande Avenue in Orlando. They’re waiting for one of the few parking spots to open up. Bowman along with most food pantries have adopted a drive up process for food distribution.

“Gloves on, mask on and we ask them to pop the trunk,” Bowman said as volunteers rolled carts full of groceries across the pavement under a hot sun.

That’s what it’s been like for months.

To keep up with demand they’ve added traffic control.

Wearing a neon yellow vest, volunteer, Donna Gregory keeps an eye on traffic as she guides visitors in and out of the parking lot.

“We’ve got about seven spots right here and that’s prime real estate for me,” Gregory said with a laugh.

She has plenty of experience.

“I have been directing traffic for about 25 years in valet parking but there’s no use for that right now so I’m here helping the community, helping Stephanie.”

That seems to be the sentiment here. Volunteers with newfound time on their hands willing to help their neighbors.

“I love that we’re all in it together, as a family,” Bowman said. “We are one unit. we are one heart.”

Bowman is right there along side those volunteers, loading cars and talking with her clients. She’ll tell you each car that pulls in comes with a story and she should know.

“I was homeless with my children running from domestic violence and we were homeless and eating out of dumpsters,” Bowman said.

Twelve years later, and a few short miles from where she slept on the street, Bowman is getting results so that other families won’t have to do the same.

“On our watch nobody will have to eat out of a dumpster. On our watch nobody will have to go hungry,” she said.

“Oh yes, she’s getting results. She is just wonderful, what she does for the community is unbelievable,” Gregory said. “I don’t think she’s ever met a stranger.”

Bowman said One heart for Women and Children relies on volunteers and donations to stay open. If you would like to help contact: helponeheart@gmail.com or visit their website at oneheartforwomenandchildren.org


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