Every December, we take a look back at the year’s top moments and reflect on their importance. This year was different though. It’s been heavy. There weren’t many “top moments” to come by.
But we shifted our thinking. Who inspired us? What made us feel good? The answer was finding the good in the bad.
1. Fighting Hunger Locally
Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida has always had a mission to create hope and nourish lives. This year, the nonprofit saw the needs of the community change significantly due to the pandemic.
Since mid-March, Second Harvest has provided more than 300,000 meals daily to its six-county service area – roughly double its pre-pandemic distribution numbers. To this point, over 50 million meals have been provided to the Central Florida community.
This includes 421 mobile food drops consisting of 11,828,054 meals for local families, 551,538 nutritious meals to over 33,827 individuals unable to travel through the Bring Hope Home program, and more than 770,000 meals for kids through the Summer Food Service Program.
Additionally, Second Harvest’s Catering for Good team shifted its focus to assist the production kitchen with preparing, packing and distributing over 2.4 million meals to families and seniors in food deserts.
2. Caring for the Homeless
Throughout the pandemic, Matthew’s Hope has worked hard to care for Orlando’s homeless population. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the nonprofit’s bus delivers nonperishable food items, hygiene products and clothing to those in need. Its healthcare team takes to the streets to ensure individuals are taking their medication as well as checking temperatures and blood pressures, dressing wounds and caring for them as a whole. Another team delivers warm, prepared meals. Their commitment to caring for the basic needs of individuals in need occurred before the pandemic as well and will certainly continue after.
3. Promoting Local Businesses
Visit Orlando’s support was needed more than ever as local restaurants, entertainment venues and small businesses struggled, especially in the spring. “Orlando has always been a caring and resourceful community that bands together during a crisis, and 2020 was no exception,” says Becca Bides, vice president of communications for Visit Orlando.
In partnership with Orange County government, they created programs to drive traffic to the local restaurant community in a safe way. This included Orlando to Go, a web directory of more than 400 local restaurants that were offering takeout and delivery; #407Day, which encouraged residents to support local restaurants and post selfies or foodie photos in honor of the county’s long-time area code on April 7; and a revamped Magical Dining Month with enhanced safety measures and takeout and delivery options in September and October to funds for Feed the Need Florida. The #407Days initiative even transformed into #407Dates, a month-long campaign in May that featured special virtual events.
4. Providing Job Search Support
The economy suffered significantly this year, resulting in millions of Americans experiencing unemployment, loss of income, reduced hours and loss of health benefits. Goodwill Industries of Central Florida saw this need that aligned with one of its many specializations: helping people secure jobs through career counseling, resume help, practice interviews and more.
Since mid-March career specialists at Goodwill have not only continued to provide free, one-on-one help, but they have also been working virtually to connect at least 18,000 contacts across Orange, Osceola, Lake, Seminole, Volusia and Brevard counties. The team has also hosted free monthly webinars with topics that include career exploration and networking. For a list of upcoming webinars, visit the Goodwill website.
5. Making Sure No Child Went Hungry
A huge concern when schools were shut down in March was how students who relied on the school cafeteria for healthy meals were going to be fed. Central Florida school systems, including Orange County Public Schools and Seminole County Public Schools, worked throughout closures to ensure students had access to breakfast and lunch on a daily basis. In fact, they’re still providing grab and go services at select locations.
Some local restaurants jumped in to help as well. At one point, Toasted locations were offering free grilled cheese sandwiches to kids and Git-N-Messy BBQ was offering free kids meals, among others.
6. Caring for the Community
Orange County Government received $243.2 million in coronavirus relief funds as part of the Federal CARES Act. It has been used for both local government expenses related to the COVID-19 response and to provide aid for both small businesses and residents. Through a series of categories, local leaders have been able to meet the immediate needs of residents, business owners, nonprofits, municipal and community partners.
Currently, funds are still available for residents to assist with rent/mortgage payments as well as utility and medical bills. The portal opens periodically for new applications and can be accessed at OCFL.net/OrangeCares. The COVID-19 Eviction Diversion Program is also accepting applications to help residents facing eviction.
7. Shifting Gears to Raise Funds
Local nonprofits plan all year for annual fundraisers that bring in a huge chunk of their funding. With large-scale, in-person events out of the picture, nonprofit leaders had to find another way to fundraise. Many chose to go virtual.
In June, Center for Independent Living was one of the first to completely pivot to a virtual event, celebrating diversity inclusion with presentations, award recognition and silent auctions on its social media platforms. In October, Shepherd’s Hope shifted to a hybrid event that included a virtual broadcast and a small, in-person event at St. Luke’s Methodist Church to spotlight its mission and celebrate healthcare heroes. Most recently, Nemours raised more than $210,000 to impact local children at Nemours Children’s Hospital through the Nemours Health Care Heroes Virtual Celebration.
These are just some of the local nonprofits that worked quickly to keep fundraisers going safely so vital funds could still be raised.
8. Providing Easy Access to Testing
An important resource that has been provided during the pandemic has been access to COVID-19 testing. The Orange County Convention Center was set up as a free testing site early on by Orange County Health Services, with local healthcare providers such as AdventHealth and Community Health Centers providing another option for residents shortly after. Now, free testing is still available at the convention center and a new location at Barnett Park was established for daily testing through the end of the year. Both locations offer both PCR and rapid tests for Orange County residents.
9. Supporting Each Other in Tough Times
With so many Central Floridians struggling, making an impact, at times, felt impossible. However, many locals stepped up to help.
A group of furloughed and laid-off Disney cast members created the Ear for Each Other Facebook group to support the side hustles of other cast members who were out of work. It’s currently up to 30,000 members who have spent the holiday season shopping locally through the group.
To thank healthcare workers who were putting in long hours, Kaitlyn Fusco created a nonprofit called Orlando Feed it Forward that supported both the hospitality industry and healthcare workers. With the help of donated funds, Fusco purchased meals from local restaurants and delivered them to hungry, overworked staff at Orlando area hospitals.
These are just some of the amazing stories of neighbors helping neighbors.
10. Being Heroes in the Healthcare Field
Last, but certainly not least, our local doctors, nurses and medical providers, who stepped up to face this pandemic head on, have been a true inspiration to our community.
Not only have they worked tirelessly to save lives but they have sacrificed time with their families to do so. In their jobs, they have experienced long days and nights as well as a range of emotions that those outside the field can never truly understand. And for that, we thank them. To the teams at Orlando Health, AdventHealth, Nemours, Community Health Centers and so many others, both locally and nationally, your work is appreciated.