In the middle of uncertainty, our community stepped up in a big, bold way to care for our neighbors. At the height of the pandemic, Orange County Government recognized the urgent need for food assistance and invested in the future of hunger relief in Central Florida. With support from the CARES Act and additional gifts from the community, Mercy Kitchen opened its doors in 2021.
Thanks to dedicated volunteers, strong community partnerships and innovative solutions, 4.5 million meals were distributed from Mercy Kitchen in the first year of operation. These meals brought renewed hope to children, families, seniors, and veterans.
The new production kitchen doubled the available space for meal preparation to support programs like Kids Café, Summer Food Service, and disaster relief efforts, as well as meals for veterans and seniors. Every day individual volunteers and corporate groups enthusiastically don chef coats, put on hairnets, and embrace their inner lunch lady. In a few fast-paced and fun hours, they scoop vegetables, prepare mini salads and package 6,000 meals daily for distribution into the community.
The opportunity to produce and distribute freshly prepared meals into the community came at the right time for students at Treasure of Knowledge Christian Academy, in the Meadow Woods community of South Orange County.
Due to lost wages, limited hours at work and financial setbacks, families were unable to send food for the after-school program resulting in some students eating and others going without. Purchasing food would mean adding additional costs to the enrollment fee for parents or squeezing a tight budget meant for tutoring, enrichment, games and activities.
Today, as part of Second Harvest Food Bank's Kids Café program, 55 kids have access to hot, freshly-prepared, nutritious meals and snacks every afternoon from Mercy Kitchen.
"It's a win-win for the school, the kids, and the community," explains school administrator Chad Lang.
In addition to providing meals for childhood hunger relief programs, Mercy Kitchen is also home to Second Harvest's social entrepreneurial endeavors, such as contracted meals for private schools. These meals, along with Catering for Good and A Spoon Full of Hope, allow Second Harvest to diversify its funding stream and continue providing necessary resources to help sustain hunger relief efforts in Central Florida.
Thanks to you, Mercy Kitchen will continue to provide hunger relief and hope in our community into the future.