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Mobile food distribution serves people in Osceola County, many living in motels

About 30 Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida volunteers were at the Central Motel parking lot in Kissimmee in the early morning of Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, distributing thousands of meals to families and individuals suffering from food and housing insecurities.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo
/
WMFE
About 30 Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida volunteers were at the Central Motel parking lot in the early morning of Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, distributing thousands of meals to families and individuals suffering from food and housing insecurities.

A food service nonprofit was outside a Kissimmee motel Tuesday morning delivering fresh foods and nonperishables to hundreds of families and individuals.

About 30 Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida volunteers were there early, setting up hundreds of food crates and boxes that took up almost half of the Central Motel’s parking lot on West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway. The group then spent about four hours serving up everyone who lined up by car or on foot to receive their goods.

The group chose this location because of the increasing number of people in the area experiencing food and housing insecurities, as well as hunger and homelessness. It was a large effort, but it was well-organized and coordinated, moving almost like an assembly line.

Some people line up in cars, others line up on foot to receive their fresh groceries at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida mobile food distribution event at the Central Motel in Kissimmee on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo
/
WMFE
Some people line up in cars, others line up on foot to receive their fresh groceries at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida mobile food distribution event at the Central Motel in Kissimmee on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

The need has grown

Erika Spence, the storytelling and communications manager at Second Harvest, said the organization delivers about 300,000 meals a day and that their mobile food distribution system has had to evolve in order to adapt to Central Florida’s growing needs.

“It heightened in 2020, and it's not gone back down,” Spence said. “Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March of 2020, we have not let up on that number because, immediately coming out of COVID, there was high inflation, and high inflation and high cost of living in Central Florida continue to plague a lot of people.”

According to Spence, Second Harvest partners with more than 600 other partner organizations, including Clarita’s House, to distribute food in a lot of different ways. She said the organization focuses on feeding people in need or living in “food deserts,” communities that, for one reason or another, don’t have local access to traditional supermarkets or fresh groceries.

Food insecurity has evolved

Spence said the need used to focus in rural areas but that, over time, food deserts have somehow shifted to urban areas. Most recently, the organization has noticed the need for food intersecting with the need for housing, taking their efforts around families and individuals staying long-term in motels like this one.

Dozens of volunteers load up cars and carts with fresh groceries and nonperishables at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida free, mobile food distribution event at the Central Motel in Kissimmee on Tuesday, Dec. 19. 2023. The effort was large but well-coordinated and moved like an assembly line.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo
/
WMFE
Dozens of volunteers load up cars and carts with fresh groceries and nonperishables at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida free, mobile food distribution event at the Central Motel in Kissimmee on Tuesday, Dec. 19. 2023. The effort was large but well-coordinated and moved like an assembly line.

“Today, specifically, we're here in Osceola County, on 192, along this string of hotels and motels where a lot of a lot of people are living because they're housing insecure,” Space said. “So, even though we're in this densely populated area along 192, there's not easy access to a supermarket with the affordable food and the fresh nutritious food that people need.”

The organization did not just have canned and dry goods, they were also handing out meats, dairy, and fresh produce.

Jorge Mitchell, an Osceola County resident, said this is his second time coming to one of these food distribution events. He drove in with his family in the car and said that, like many others, they're trying to increase the quality of nutrition in their household while staying local and saving money.

The intersections of poverty

“Really, this is something phenomenal for our neighborhood, especially during this holiday month when we’re all running around so much,” Mitchell said. “This is a great help for our community.”

Other organizations were also there to help and give orientation to visitors, particularly regarding healthcare alternatives. One such organization was Osceola Community Health Services, a family medical and dental services provider dedicated to low-income families and people experiencing homelessness.

Community Outreach Specialist Elsie Monge-Lugo said their group accepts everybody, including people who are uninsured medically.

“We have two mobile units, and we go to the homeless areas, and we provide the services for them for free,” Monge-Lugo said. “We are promoting our services because we want to help the community and especially the low-income families.”

Spence said anyone in need of food services or other help is encouraged to visit the Second Harvest food bank website to access resources and learn more.

Dozens of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida volunteers serve up groceries to hundreds of people who line up to get their fair share. The crowd of locals ranged from full families in driving up cars to individuals experiencing homelessness walking up. Everyone had to register and get a ticket to enjoy the free, mobile food distribution event outside the Central Motel in Kissimmee on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo
/
WMFE
Dozens of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida volunteers serve up groceries to hundreds of people who line up to get their fair share. The crowd of locals ranged from full families in driving up cars to individuals experiencing homelessness walking up. Everyone had to register and get a ticket to enjoy the free, mobile food distribution event outside the Central Motel in Kissimmee on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member. 

Lillian (Lilly) Hernández Caraballo is a bilingual, multimedia journalist covering housing and homelessness for WMFE, as a Report for America corps member.
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