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Second Harvest expands into Marion County, merging with First Step Food Bank

Executive Director Peter Del Toro has worked with First Step Food Bank for 18 years. He'll be working for Second Harvest soon. Photo: Joe Byrnes, WMFE News
Executive Director Peter Del Toro has worked with First Step Food Bank for 18 years. He'll be working for Second Harvest soon. Photo: Joe Byrnes, WMFE News

First Step Food Bank has been feeding Marion County residents in need for 30 years by providing food to churches and other nonprofits.

Now it is handing off its mission to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. First Step has a history with Second Harvest, as its distributor for federal emergency food assistance in Marion County.

But last year Second Harvest lost its contract for this region, being replaced by Farm Share in the region that includes Marion County, and First Step lost the administrative funds and food that came with that contract.

The merger will keep the food flowing to 41 agencies in the county. And Executive Director Peter Del Toro and his part-time staff will stay on.

The need has increased, Del Torro said. "We want to just make sure that we have the opportunity for access to food for all these folks that come to the pantries."

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Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida President and CEO Derrick Chubbs announced the merger with First Step at the Ocala food bank on Monday. Photo: Joe Byrnes, WMFE News[/caption]

Second Harvest President and CEO Derrick Chubbs says there are no immediate plans to start making changes.

When Second Harvest does make changes, he said, "it will be about increasing the capacity of this location, not trimming anything back. It will be about putting more into First Step in order to address more people in the community and more need in the community."

Chubbs plans to complete the merger by January, creating a Marion County branch. He envisions home-delivery programs like the one in Orange County and summer feeding programs, too.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.