ORLANDO, Fla. – Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida said it has seen a double-digit percentage increase in the number of people searching for food banks in our area.
The director of philanthropy for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Dan Samuels, said the post-pandemic demand for food assistance had started to level off, but now, it’s almost back to up to where it was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“This time last year it was about 150 people or so a day on our tool looking for a food pantry near them,” Samuels said. “Now we’re closer to 250 people a day searching for food assistance.”
Not only is Second Harvest trying to keep up with the increased demand, they are also working around supply chain issues.
“If you’re not seeing it on the shelves in the grocery store, odds are food banks are struggling to get it as well,” Samuels said. “We’re having to get creative on what we provide to the community in order to still help feed the need.”
The most recent example of this was Thanksgiving.
“Instead of just turkeys, we were able to do turkeys, hams and chickens so that we had a variety of proteins to be able to provide because we weren’t able to get just enough turkeys for everybody,” Samuels said.
Several of Second Harvest’s partner agencies were at the food bank on Monday picking up orders for their own pantries.
Lynn Dillingham with the Ark Ministry Pantry in Clermont said the hunger crisis doesn’t end after Thanksgiving. She said their phone rings every day with new people looking for food assistance.
“A lot of people have lost jobs,” Dillingham said. “Things have changed. Small businesses have closed where a lot of people have worked.”
Dillingham said on top of lost jobs, Hurricanes Ian and Nicole only made matters worse.
“I have a lot of people who lost food because they lost power,” Dillingham said. “Some people have not returned back to the normal, even though we’re not hearing a lot about it, a lot of people haven’t returned to the normal regiment.”
The food bank relies not only on partnerships with large grocers but also on help from people like Orange County resident Richard Lewis.
“Food insecurity is a tough thing for a lot of people especially not too terribly far from this area, you have a food desert,” Lewis said. “We tend to want to be able to share what we have. It’s not that we have tons, but what we have, we can share.”
Lewis said he’s not surprised by the increased food assistance demand and said he’s happy to do what he can to help.
“You know, especially look at what’s happening right now,” Lewis said. “There’s going to be a need and as long as there’s something we can do to assist in what limited capacity we have, then we’re happy to do so.”
With Giving Tuesday right around the corner, Second Harvest is encouraging people to join the fight against hunger.
“Before the pandemic, before inflation, there was hunger in our community,” Samuels said. “These impacts, these disasters, if you will, have just exacerbated that problem. So we’re looking to the community this Giving Tuesday to be a part of the solution because we can’t do this alone.”
If you would like to donate to Second Harvest this Giving Tuesday or if you are in need of food assistance, go to the Second Harvest Food Bank website.