ORLANDO, Fla. – Over the last 7 months, hundreds of thousands of people across the country have had to depend on food banks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Florida, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, provides food to more than 550 food banks across Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties. Behind the operation is a group of dedicated workers and volunteers doing their part to feed the hungry.
Among that team, is Carlos Santamaría and Ricardo Robledo. Both have experienced first-hand the struggles their families endured to put food on the table.
“I was kind of raised in a poor family per se. So I know what it’s all about. I know it’s being limited to a meal,” Santamaría, a native of Nicaragua said.
He recalled growing up during the Nicaraguan revolution and witnessing the chaos his country went through during the 1970s.
“I was 7 years old when the war started, and it was just tremendous. It was very dramatic ...bodies on the streets, burning bodies in the corners,” he said.
At the time, it was mandatory in Nicaragua, for boys to enlist in the military at 12 years old. When Carlos reached that age, his mother was able to get him out of the Central American and take him to live with her in Miami.
In 1992, he decided to join a local food bank. Today, 28 years after starting his journey to help others, he’s the Director of Operations for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.
“I never thought I was gonna be you know, in this position that I am now,” Santamaría said. “I’ve loved this since then. I mean it’s just been amazing.”
A devotion he shares with his co-worker, Ricardo Robledo, to lend a helping hand to the less fortunate.
“I see my guys, my teams, they’re coming in with a positive attitude and they’re willing to go out there to the community and help the people,” Robledo said. “It motivates me more to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Robledo was born in Puerto Rico and lived in New York. He’s one of seven siblings.
“My dad always had to be the provider for the family and sometimes it was hard. So, we were always trying to do things to help each other,” he recalled.
He said his desire to help others was instilled by his parents, and despite those struggling times, there was always room for one more at the table.
“They were there to help anybody it doesn’t matter who you were,” he said. “My house, if you come to my house my mom and dad would’ve fed you, so I do the same thing. No matter what it is.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Second Harvest Food Bank has distributed about 41 million meals in almost 7 months. They’ve doubled from serving 150,000 meals a day to 300,000.
“I see a lot of folks out there where they’re in need and by me being in here I could do something to help,” Robledo, a father of two, said.
For Carlos, giving back to his community through his work is a way of showing his appreciation for this country.
“It’s the land of opportunities you know, you come here, you come with a purpose, and you wanna be able to get on that opportunity,” he said.
An operation that takes a team to make it happen.