Osceola County food pantries received much-needed financial assistance thanks to community fundraising by a local disaster relief fund.
Osceola REDI, started in 2016 after the UNNO hotel fire displaced approximately 250 people in Kissimmee, shifted its focus from disaster relief to helping the pantries fill their shelves to feed individuals affected by unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly $56,400 in checks from the organization were distributed July 24 to local pantries to help offset the increase in clients they’ve seen in recent months.
“A lot of people don’t realize how heavy the need is in certain areas,” said Tammy Madison, executive director of the St. Cloud Community Pantry, which received a $6,000 check. “We’re serving more than 10 percent of St. Cloud residents.”
In June, the St. Cloud pantry served 616 clients, which includes whole families. Madison described a recent trend of witnessing two to three generations living together under one roof.
“We have been able to just keep up with the clients we have,” she said. “We only allow them to come once a month or we’d run out of groceries.”
Madison estimated the pantry spends $43,000 each month to purchase frozen meats, fresh produce, breakfast items and canned goods for their clientele. The pantry hands over about four days worth of groceries to each client and works with local grocery stores and restaurant chains for donations to supplement the food bags.
“We’re seeing a lot of first time clients,” Madison said. “We’re going to continue doing the drive-through [distribution] because of social distancing but also because our numbers have gone back up again because for a short period of time, (clients) had to come in (to the pantry building).”
While the origin of the idea to fundraise for the pantries is a bit unclear, County Commissioner Brandon Arrington, who partnered with Osceola REDI as a spokesperson, quickly hands off credit to others in the community.
After volunteering at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church’s food distribution, Arrington realized the extent of the hunger need in Osceola County.
“I was shocked at the rate they were going through food and how many people they were serving,” Arrington said. “There are just so many people who never thought they’d need food assistance. It’s all walks of life.”
After a conversation with Mark Neveu, president of Terry’s Electric, Arrington decided to challenge the community to raise $100,000 for local food pantries. If the amount is raised, Arrington will shave his head.
“It’s a little selfdepreciating,” he said, but he’s willing to do what’s needed to enlist community support. “It was a community effort and a lot of people got engaged.”
Neveu downplayed any role he played in sparking Arrington’s idea for the pantry fundraiser but he wants to encourage the community to help raise the other half of the $100,000 for the pantries.
“Some people may have a rainy day fund,” he said, adding Terry’s Electric makes bi-monthly donations. “The county has always been there for us and we want to be there for the county,” he said.
To ensure community awareness and involvement, the downtown Kissimmee Area Council donated $1,000 to the fund and challenged other local organizations and councils to raise money for the fund.
“It was just a friendly competition,” said Bri Stefek, DKAC chairwoman. “When the opportunity came up, it was an automatic, a wonderful thing going on in the face of this crisis.”