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Holidays shines light on hunger

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The holidays are in full swing, and with them come joyous parties with abundant spreads of food. It’s hard to imagine how it would feel to go to bed hungry – yet that is a real possibility for the one in five Central Floridians who struggle to afford enough food for themselves and their families.

The CBS program “60 Minutes” recently profiled a few of these individuals and families in a segment about homelessness in Central Florida, following up on a report that aired in March. The show featured regular people, accustomed to earning a wage and making their own way in life, who have found themselves with few options for sustainability following the Great Recession.

At Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, we often hear from people with similar stories of desperation. Few fit the stereotypical image of poverty. Some are college-educated individuals who held high-powered jobs a year ago and now struggle to afford three meals a day. Others work long hours to provide for their families, yet their paychecks simply don’t stretch far enough. Still others are seniors living on fixed incomes that barely cover their essential medications, let alone food. Nearly all held out as long as they could, feeling the sting of shame as they realize they have nowhere else to go.

And, children suffer disproportionately: Last year, 47 percent of those receiving help from Second Harvest’s network of charitable feeding programs were children under the age of 18. More than 246,000 kids in Central Florida are at risk for experiencing lifelong adverse physical, behavioral and mental health effects due to insufficient nutrition. It breaks our hearts to see kids who are losing adult teeth because they’re malnourished – yet that is happening in our own backyard.

These numbers can easily become overwhelming. Considering the magnitude of the crisis, is it possible to make a real difference? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Every dollar given to Second Harvest can provide up to $9 worth of grocery products for those who need it – and 96 percent of that dollar goes straight to programs that feed people.

Last year, thanks to the generosity of thousands of donors and volunteers, our network of agencies distributed nearly 33 million pounds of food, the equivalent of more than 22 million meals. It’s not just canned products, either – we collect and store millions of pounds of fresh produce in our refrigerated facilities every year, ready for distribution to those who might otherwise be forced to eat a cheaper meal with less nutrition.

This year, the need is even more critical than ever before … especially during the holiday season, when even more people turn to us for the first time. I have faith in Central Florida’s giving community. We’ve stepped up before, and we need to continue our efforts. It’s unacceptable that anyone in our community should lack the basics of human life. Everyone can find a meaningful way to help.

Learn how to get involved and make a difference by visiting www.feedhopenow.org.

Dave Krepcho is the president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, which serves Seminole, Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola and Volusia counties.