Central Florida food banks still struggling to meet demand amid COVID-19 pandemic

Food bank predicts increased demand will linger beyond this year

ORLANDO, Fla. – As the country enters its third month since the pandemic broke out, communities across Central Florida continue to struggle to put food on the table.

René Escobar was furloughed in mid-March from the facility support craft department at Disney’s Riviera Resort, where he’s worked for more than two decades.

“I love my job. I would like to come back. It’s 23 years. Coworkers (are) like family for me,” Escobar said.

He said it’s been a difficult time for him and his family. He still doesn’t know when or even if he’ll be called back to work.

"It's hard. It's a lot of, you know, emotions because we have to make adjustments to the style of living," the Honduran immigrant said.

Escobar said he receives $680 from federal and unemployment assistance, but making ends meet with that monthly income is a challenge.

"We can pay bills, you know, we still pay car, insurance, the mortgage," he said.

But in terms of food, he said the raised prices at the grocery stores and supermarkets make it more difficult.

Like Escobar, millions of families have recently had to pick up their next meals at food donation events for the first time, which has made for an unforeseeable situation at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

“I’ve been doing this for 26 years and been through 9/11, you know, the recession, floods, fires, hurricanes, and this just is over the top of all them,” Dave Krepcho, president and CEO of the organization said. “Some of our pantries were experiencing up to, like, a 400% increase in demand.”

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is the largest in the state. Krepcho said their FoodFinder app on their website has seen an increase of 1,200 searches a day and hundreds of phone calls continue to come in from people in need of food.

“Since mid-March, we’ve been distributing enough food for 300,000 meals each day -- just unheard of. Double the typical distribution and there’s no let in it,” Krepcho said.

The nonprofit works with 550 feeding partners, supplying food pantries across six counties in Central Florida. According to Krepcho, the high demand they’re experiencing will most likely go beyond 2020. He said the organization is ready to tackle the demand.

“The food bank’s prepared to handle a long recovery. We’ve looked at all kinds of economic projections, unemployment projections, all those factors and the food supply as well, and we projected out a year,” Krepcho said. “What we see happening is that this very high increase demand will continue through November, most likely into December, and then in January 2021, we believe it may taper off slowly through the spring.”

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida said the best way the community can help is through financial donations. Click here if you’re interested in helping or need food assistance yourself.

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