Hundreds of cars loaded with food at drive-through pantry amid pandemic

  • A volunteer loads a bag of food into the back of a vehicle.
    A volunteer loads a bag of food into the back of a vehicle.
  • Sheriff Russ Gibson hands out rolls of toilet paper.
    Sheriff Russ Gibson hands out rolls of toilet paper.
  • Volunteers bag food items.
    Volunteers bag food items.

The line of hundreds of cars snaked through the parking lot of Osceola Heritage Park as people waited to get some much-needed food at a drive through pantry on Thursday.

It was community aid quickly set up through multiple organizations coming together to help those in need.

“There was no preparation,” said Wilda Belisle, senior vice president of nutrition at the Osceola Council on Aging, which helped to spearhead the operation. “This was out of the goodness of the hearts of a lot of people.”

It included representatives of the council, Community Hope Center, Salvation Army, St. Cloud Food Pantry, city of Kissimmee, Osceola Heritage Park and the Second Harvest Bank. Belisle said instead of each organization hosting their own event, they decided to come together for the common good.

The hardship has been caused by the coronavirus. People have either lost their jobs; senior citizens are afraid to go out aside because they are more susceptible to the disease; or families just can’t find what they need at the store, Belisle explained.

“Everybody has their own situation,” she added.

Volunteers on site quickly sorted and bagged milk, vegetables, fruits, butter, bread and canned goods and loaded it to the vehicles as they approached.

“They are doing a great job,” said Osvaldo Figueroa, of Kissimmee, who was in line seeking milk and canned goods. “God bless you. God bless you all.”

Osceola Sheriff Russ Gibson was on hand, armed with two rolls of toilet paper for each vehicle. The food drive just showed what Osceola County was all about, he said.

“We stick together, that’s what we do,” Gibson said. “Whenever the going gets tough, Osceola County is coming together.”

The rolling drive was sparked after the residents recently flocked to Council on Aging’s food pantry. It served more than 150 families in one day, causing traffic congestion along U.S. Highway 192.

“It was out of control,” Belisle said. “We said, ‘we have to do this (drive-through pantry).”’

So, Osceola Heritage Park stepped up and offered to host the operation. The line of cars demonstrated what that huge need there is locally.

“The (council) phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” Belisle said.

A 500-car limit was set because there just wasn’t enough food for more than that, she added.

“My heart just swells,” Gibson said about volunteering. “When you do for people and expect nothing, that’s huge.”