On March 8, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida hosted the 2018 Partner Network Conference at Calvary Assembly. The third annual event was made possible by support from Winter Park Health Foundation. The conference is a time for feeding partners who help distribute 56 million meals each year to engage and be empowered for another year of filling the meal gap in Central Florida. This year 300 attendees participated from six counties.
The day-long conference included general sessions on the state of the food bank, advocacy efforts and an update on Health and Hunger initiatives. Attendees were also able to participate in a variety of breakout sessions on topics to help grow their organization, such as pantry best practices, grant writing, volunteer management, nutrition education and storytelling. Other sessions focused on different clients served in our community, such as homeless, veterans, teens, individuals with chronic disease and immigrants.
The luau-themed event created a fun atmosphere for attendees to network with fellow feeding partners, sharing ideas and experiences. Here is a sample of the conversations had throughout the day:
Stephanie Bowman (center) discusses the importance of making clients feel like they matter. “It’s all about making connections, and there is no one face to hunger,“ Bowman, the founder of One Heart for Women and Children in Orange County, said.
Linda Bradley (left) and Arlyn Post (right) discuss the intricacies of customer service at Beyond the Walls Ministry in Lake County. Post said she is always gentle with her clients and looks past the anger and bitterness some have. “You just never know what someone is going through,” Bradley said.
Johnna Gracik from the Knights Helping Knights Pantry at UCF (left) and Linda Bradley (right) discussed their efforts to feed hope after Hurricane Irma last September. “Students have to meet their basic needs, and we try to restore dignity,” Gracik said. “They are somebody’s child.”
The women of Nazaret Casa De Dios. Nydia dedicates six days a week to her work at the pantry in Osceola County and takes care of her mother on Saturdays. This month, she said she helped feed 364 families on Mardis Gras, more than double the number of people her pantry usually serves in a week. Nydia said she was so happy to attend her first Partner Network Conference and meet new people with the same passion to end hunger. Nydia circled the room and networked with other pantries during breaks between sessions.
Shandra Petion is a graduate of the Second Harvest Culinary Training Program. Petion, 33 and a mother of four, worked at a gas station making $9 an hour and after graduating from Second Harvest is now a chef and a baker at assisted living facilities in Central Florida. Read more of Shandra’s story of hope and courage.
Alberto Piedra works communications at the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida where they serve more than 1,500 clients. Hope & Help used to exclusively serve families struggling with HIV, but they are now a health clinic for everyone in need across Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Brevard and Lake counties. Hope and Help clients struggle with homelessness and other stressors and “food is another thing for them to worry about,” Piedra said. Their pantry is there to alleviate those stresses. “People have a pre-conceived notion of what HIV looks like. We try to de-construct that barrier, as well.”
– Co-written by Erika Spence, Mission Storyteller, and Gia Doxey