In The News — 2023

Reps. Soto, Frost join roundtable discussion addressing food insecurity in Central Florida

By Daryl Matthews, WFTV.com & Charles Frazier, WFTV.com

August 01, 2023 at 5:43 pm EDT

ORLANDO, Fla. — Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida hosted an in-depth discussion Tuesday about how to put and keep food on the table for thousands of families.

Officials focused on specific needs in surrounding counties and why federal assistance programs are critical to helping meet them.

A wide range of experts were represented at Tuesday’s meeting including healthcare officials, farmers and other organizations that help feed families and working parents. They all agree that more needs to be done to end the fight for the basic need for food.

“These are real world situations for me, and I can’t wait a year for y’all to make a decision. It’s a fight. How is this possible? We’re talking about food,” President of Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando Philip Flynn said to the panel. “People need to eat, so my solutions are, I don’t have any solutions. I can only save the person that’s standing in front of me, and I can’t do it without the food.”

Flynn says his organization is feeding 122 people per day. He went to Tuesday’s meeting to speak directly to U.S. Representatives Maxwell Frost (D-Orlando) and Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee), who are both working to pass a new Farm Bill that helps keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers while ensuring an adequate food supply throughout the country.

“I understand,” Frost said at the meeting. “It’s unfortunate that we go back and we’re dealing with a Republican majority that is fighting tooth and nail to take away money from families.”

More than half a million Central Floridians face some kind of food insecurity. 300,000 of them are fed through the Second Harvest Food Bank every day.

The proposed farm bill would help make it easier on struggling families, but Rep. Soto says it all comes down to one thing: funding.

“It’s always about money unfortunately,” Rep. Soto said. “How much to spend on resources to make sure seniors, make sure veterans, make sure children and people with disabilities have this safety net. The farm bill will expire in September. Rep. Soto says the new bill could take a year to pass through Congress before being signed by the President.

View the video here.

The Pearlman Food Pantry at Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando is as busy as ever — working diligently to ensure those in need can get vital food assistance for themselves and their families.

“So far this year, JFS Orlando’s pantry has distributed record levels of food not seen in our 45-year history” says Philip Flynn III, president of Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando. According to Flynn, four of the past six months have exceeded our previous record of 447 sets, with the highest being 581 in May 2023.” A set is enough groceries to feed a family of 4 for a week. “If this trend continues, we estimate that by the end of 2023 we will provide close 250,000 meals to those who depend on our assistance year-round.”

The Pearlman Food Pantry, located at 2100 Lee Road in Winter Park, provides food equal to almost 23,000 meals per month. Our goal is to “take food insecurity off the table” so people can focus on taking care of their family’s other needs like education and their wellbeing” added Flynn. “If you don’t have enough food on your table, it’s hard to think about how you’re going to find a job or take care of your kids.

Current economic woes are weighing on low to moderate-income families who are dealing with inflation while Covid-era benefits have ended. Food insecurity has far-reaching implications, not just on families, but on the broader economy.

In Central Florida, nearly 1 in 8 people are living with food insecurity, according to Feeding America. Many working families are forced to make the difficult choice between paying for food, medical care, and utilities with 1 in 3 people facing hunger unlikely to even qualify for SNAP.

Not having consistent nutrition leads to chronic illnesses such as obesity and diabetes. Those conditions can result in higher medical bills, reduced worker productivity, days off from work and increased poverty.

Most worrisome is that 1 in 5 children live with food insecurity. Being food insecure at any age can be harmful, but it can be devastating for children. It can stunt their growth, affect their ability to learn and forces them to withdraw from social interaction. The consequences and costs of food insecurity for children of all ages make addressing the issue an economic and social imperative as research demonstrates links between food insecurity and poor child health and behavioral outcomes at every age.

This significant increase shows not just how essential our food pantry is to the community, but how critical the persistent need for food assistance is these days. JFS recently expanded the Pearlman Food Pantry to nearly double the size to about 600 square feet and added new equipment that makes it easier to distribute larger amounts of food. “This expansion is part of our long-term strategy focused on making access to healthy food more convenient and consistent”, Flynn said recently.

If you are in need of food assistance, please call (407) 644-7593 or visit JFSorlando.org. If you would like to support JFS Orlando and their FAMILY of Services, please visit ask for Aaron Bernstein.

Aaron Bernstein (L), director of development for JFS Orlando, is shown here with Jeff Hayward (R), president and CEO for Heart of Florida United Way.

Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando is pleased to announce it has been awarded a $50,000 grant from Heart of Florida United Way to continue supporting our Central Florida community, including ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) households.

“Our local nonprofit agencies have been and will continue to work tirelessly to keep Central Floridians facing insurmountable challenges afloat,” said Jeff Hayward, President and CEO of HFUW. “Given ALICE households are already one crisis away from financial ruin, many have either depleted or have limited savings to make ends meet. These investments in our partner agencies allow for more support to ALICE families with the services needed to get them through a difficult time.”

Individuals and families from all over the tri-county area-Orange, Osceola, and Seminole-come to JFS Orlando seeking basic needs and stability. Whether it is learning the tools to avoid homelessness and achieve long-term stability through their Family Stabilization Program, food assistance through their Pearlman Food Pantry, or mental health care through their Counseling services, JFS Orlando’s family of services is there to support our community and get them the help they need.

“The hardships and cost of living for those we serve in our community continued to grow this year,” said Philip Flynn, executive director of JFS Orlando. “We are thankful for our partnership with Heart of Florida United Way to help meet the increasing need for our relief services.”

To learn more about JFS Orlando and their family of services, visit JFSorlando.org or follow them @JFSorlando.

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