Bringing Hope Home in Central Florida

Rising to the Challenge: Second Harvest Food Bank's Story of Hope and Resilience

November 29, 2021

We last spoke with Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in early February of 2020. At the time, they had 550 food distribution partners in six counties and were providing 150,000 meals per day. The nonprofit had three DipJars and everyone was feeling optimistic. What happened instead was a crisis that upended life around the world. For millions of Americans, hunger became a new and unwelcome fact of life.

We sat down again with Betty Dye and Veronica Jaramillo Mucha of Second Harvest, the fundraising marketing manager and events specialist, respectively, to hear how the organization managed during these hard times. What we heard was a story of rising to the challenge, making adjustments, welcoming new volunteers and partners, and feeding more people in need than ever before. Ultimately, a story of hope.

Second Harvest had no alternative but to work harder and smarter to meet the growing needs of the communities they serve. At the peak of the pandemic, the organization was providing more than 300,000 meals per day. Twice their typical daily average. Driving this demand was job loss in the service industry - an integral part of the Orlando-area economy. Even now, with some level of normalcy returning, Second Harvest is still providing more than a quarter-million meals every day.

It wasn’t just the volume that changed, the way they collected and distributed also had to change, as did the way funds were raised, and services provided. For example, Second Harvest continues to work with its Grocery Alliance partners to collect excess food. It’s important to note that this isn’t “spoiled” food. There is nothing wrong with it, these are items that may have been over-ordered or aren’t selling as expected. They also work with more than 500 distribution partner organizations - food pantries, shelters, and others - to get meals out into the community.

To deal with the dramatic increase in demand, Second Harvest introduced a new program, “Bring Hope Home,” which saw the organization work to deliver food to those in need.  Two existing programs - “Food Finder” and “Mobile Drops” saw dramatically increased usage. “Food Finder,” which allows people to locate food resources nearby saw record numbers of searches during the pandemic.  “Mobile Drops,” where boxes of food are brought to a location and loaded into people’s cars., went from one or two “drops” per day to three or four. Knowing which communities were home to the greatest number of theme park employees informed the locations for the “Mobile Drops.” These less in-person approaches were important adjustments in the face of COVID to keep the food flowing and volunteers safe and healthy.

Other important adjustments came in the way Second Harvest has sought and received support from the community. Veronica, who works closely with corporate partners, saw the number of supportive companies increase and the gifts they gave grow larger. During COVID, Betty’s fundraising team grew - and the need for that growth was more than justified by the level of support the organization received.

One event, a virtual food drive, previously attracted about 50 participants In 2020, more than 450 people took part. The annual telethon raised an unprecedented $1M in just one day. “Everyone needs to help, everyone was looking for ways to help, asking what can I do,” said Mucha. “Channeling that desire to help, that has been my mission since the pandemic started,” said Dye.

The organization’s DipJars have also played a role in supporting Second Harvest’s mission. They’ve been on hand when volunteers come to sort and package food. The devices are set to $10 dollars per “dip,” enough to provide 40 meals, according to Mucha. The DipJars were on the move during the pandemic, popping up at two local BBQ joints during Hunger Action Month in September. “The DipJars performed well,” said Mucha, “people get a kick out of them!”

Dye and Mucha are too busy planning for the future to spend too much time reflecting on the past. All their attention is now focused on Giving Tuesday and Share Your Christmas, two important year-end fundraising events for Second Harvest. Giving Tuesday, in particular, is intense. “It’s 24 hours of fundraising, visiting communities to collect food and donation,” said Dye. The effort is supported by a concerted effort to get the word out through the media, advertising, direct mail, and email blasts. “It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time,” she said.

Thinking about the future, Mucha was philosophical. “We’re not going to eradicate hunger. Wish we could. All we can do is keep finding more effective ways to serve.” As long as there are organizations like Second Harvest looking for better ways to serve, DipJar will be ready as a partner in moving that work forward.


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