ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As Central Florida counties begin issuing stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus many businesses and other services are closing their doors for at least two weeks but several nonprofits that help people in need will continue to serve the community throughout the closures.
Trucks packed with food pulled into the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida on Thursday. Dave Krepcho, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, said they are filling a huge need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As we know food is just a basic necessity and we see what's happening in the grocery stores. People are hoarding. That really shows you how critical food is," Krepcho said.
Krepcho said the nonprofit will stay open during the stay-at-home orders issued in Orange and Osceola counties. Staff and volunteers are working long hours to keep people fed. Krepcho said they are doubling the amount of food they distribute to 500 sites across Central Florida.
"On a daily basis we're pumping out close to 300,000 meals," he said.
He said they are also getting more requests for food. Prior to the pandemic, they usually received 35 online requests a day but that has increased substantially.
"The daily average now is 1,200," Krepcho said.
[Timeline: The spread of coronavirus in Florida]
Krepcho said they are discouraging people from holding food drives. Instead, he’s encouraging people who want to help to participate in Second Harvest’s virtual food drive and make a financial donation to help serve families in need.
"We're keeping on. That's our mission to serve. The public really trusts us with their time, talent and treasure and we're going to maximize that for everybody," he said.
Harbor House of Central Florida is also still open and serving victims of domestic violence.
Michelle Sperzel, the nonprofit’s CEO, said victims can still get help even if they have to stay home.
"Don't let an abuser say to you 'Don't reach out to Harbor House, they're closed.' Don't let an abuser say to you 'Don't call 911, they're not going to respond' because we are and we're going to make sure that abusers are being held accountable at this time and they're not using this shelter in place as an excuse to be able to abuse," Sperzel said.
Sprezel said the emergency shelter, crisis hotline, outreach drop-in office, and courthouse advocates are still available during the shelter in place. She expects to see an uptick in domestic violence cases once the orders are lifted.
“We’re going to see an increase on the other side. When the stay-at-home order expires, that’s when we’re going to get more people reaching out, I believe, only because they’re going to have more accessibility to their computer and to their phone only because it’s very difficult right now to get away from your abuser,” Sperzel said.
She adds the nonprofit is requesting monetary donations, as well as cleaning supplies, food and school supplies for the children who are currently living at the emergency shelter.
Heart of Florida United Way said it also still serving Central Florida families. CEO Jeff Hayward said the organization normally receives 700 calls a day into its 211 Information and Referral Crisis line but now call specialists are seeing a 300% increase.
"We're averaging now 3,300 a day and the calls that are coming in, folks are desperate. They're beginning to lose hours and their jobs and so forth," Hayward said.
Hayward said many of the callers are seeking help through the ALICE -- which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed-- Recovery Fund to help those experiencing hardship due to the coronavirus.
"Just yesterday we had 663 applications for financial assistance. Since this started, we've had over 3,500 applications for financial assistance," he said. "Folks who are in need of rent assistance, utility assistance or quite frankly money to buy food.
Hayward said they have not been able to hire additional staff. He’s asking callers to be patient. He adds there are other ways to seek assistance, including texting your zip code to 898211 or chatting with a specialist on their website.
The nonprofit is also seeking donations to the ALICE Recovery Fund so it can continue to help people during the pandemic.
“We’re asking people to give to that fund to help those families who are living on the edge and can’t pay their basic needs,” Hayward said.