‘Fighting hunger. Feeding hope.’ That’s the motto of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, a feeding partner of the American Red Cross Central Florida Region. On a sunny September day, the partners did just that, preparing and distributing 200 hundred meals to children attending Orange County Parks and Recreation Department after-school programs.
The training exercise provide real, hands-on experience for Red Cross volunteers to deliver and distribute hot meals, water and snacks into communities devastated by disasters.
The exercise replicated a full cycle of feeding. More than 200 meals were prepared in the kitchens of Second Harvest, carefully loaded into large containers designed to preserve the heat in Red Cross emergency response vehicles, and driven and served by Red Cross volunteers to participants of four different Orange County Parks and Rec. programs.
“We had all the necessary components for the exercise to work,” Red Cross Feeding Coordinator Michele Shepherd said. “We had the food to be cooked, the volunteers to serve and the people to feed.”
Red Cross volunteers are required to take specialized training programs including safe food handling and mass care overview courses prior to emergency deployment for a disaster. Hands-on exercises simulate real emergency responses Overall, 19 Red Cross volunteers participated in the Orange County event.
Will Siebert is the program manager for Meals for Good – the production kitchen of Second Harvest – who helped make the event possible.
“Red Cross teams are always so energetic and positive,” Siebert said. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Second Harvest and Orange County Parks and Rec. have had a long and mutually-beneficial relationship, even receiving an achievement award together through the National Association of Counties in 2017.
In 2018, Second Harvest stepped up to provide meals for the Red Cross to serve after Hurricane Irma left the organization’s primary food vendor unable to cook. In total, Second Harvest supplied approximately 22,000 meals for those in need in our own communities recovering from Irma.
When asked if similar exercises were being planned, both Shepherd and Siebert expressed their enthusiasm for future coordination with such committed organizations.
“We appreciate the cooperation with everyone,” Siebert said. “The energy from all entities involved really helped us prepare for times in need.”