Taste of the Nation event helps end childhood hunger

Chefs from Central Florida’s best restaurants come out to cook for a good cause at the annual Taste the Nation event at the Orlando World Marriott.

Chefs from Central Florida’s best restaurants come out to cook for a good cause at the annual Taste the Nation event at the Orlando World Marriott.

Brittni Larson

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One in five Central Floridians face hunger and food insecurity every day, and more than 7,200 Orange County Public School students are homeless.

Of those 7,200 students, most have a parent in the same situation, which doubles the number. Some may have a sibling not in school yet, which triples the number, and a family of four quadruples it.

“So that 7,200 can quickly swell to 28-30,000 people that are unseen and who are not properly housed or at least precariously housed in our community,” said Brent Trotter, president and CEO, Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

And most likely, those families are not only unsure of where they’ll rest their heads at night, but they also don’t know if they’ll have to do that with an empty stomach, too.

“[Locals] don’t know that right here in our neighborhoods, right here in our community that there are children who are going to bed hungry, there are children who are wondering where their next meal will come,” Trotter said.

On Aug. 9, Central Florida will host an event that can help end some of that hunger.

Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Orlando is celebrating its 25th year helping to combat childhood hunger. In its 25 years, it has raised more than $3 million for the organization’s national No Kid Hungry program, which recruits summer meal sites, starts and improves school breakfast programs and teaches families how to shop for and prepare healthy meals on a budget, and two local beneficiaries the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. This year they hope to raise $300,000, and approximately $40-45,000 will go to each local organization.

“Every $1 that’s donated to Second Harvest Food Bank, we distribute $9 worth of groceries, so if you look at it in those terms, that $40-45,000 donation is providing about $400,000 worth of groceries to the community, so it’s an incredible return on investment,” said Dave Krepcho, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank. “That money’s going a long, long way to fill a very basic need for folks in our community.”

The event takes place at the Orlando World Center Marriott and features drinks and food from 35 of Central Florida’s chefs and restaurants, including two James Beard Foundation Award semi-finalists: Hari Pulapaka of Cress Restaurant and Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant and Wine Bar. There will be a silent auction and a raffle grand prize drawing of a trip for two to Oktoberfest in Munich. There will also be an appearance by Food Network celebrity chef Melissa d’Arabian, who said her heart is close to the mission because as the child of a single mom who struggled to put food on the table, she experienced going to school without a lunch.

So an evening of delicious food and drinks can help feed the 180 children who come to the Coalition of the Homeless for a meal 365 days a year — that’s 300,000 meals including everyone they serve — and the Second Harvest Food Bank, which collects food for more than 500 feeding partners. Second Harvest uses the donations from this event for its Benefits Connection program, which helps people who qualify for SNAP benefits — food stamps — to realize that benefits exist and they are eligible, navigate a system they may not understand and help them with any language or literacy barriers.

That’s important, because at 47 percent, most of the recipients of food stamps are children.

“You’re giving them nourishment, and you’re giving them the ability to feed themselves and learn how to feed themselves in a healthy way,” said Helen Donegan, honorary chair of the event. “You’re giving them the nourishment, especially with the young kids, to go to school and to learn and to be a part of life and to be a part of the community.”