This past week, I was traveling on I-4 and saw both westbound and eastbound ramps of Conroy Rd. backed onto I-4, hundreds of cars in line waiting to get off to go the Millennia Mall and do their holiday shopping and dining. We’ve all seen something like this or perhaps have been in the middle of it ourselves. What was different about the sight this time was the fact I was on my way to deliver some emergency food boxes to a disabled couple living in a one-room kitchenette in an old motel. There was barely enough room for them to walk around a double bed. The contrast in sights was very stark and disturbing to say the least. We hear about the ever-widening gap between those who have and those who don’t – seeing it firsthand like this is incredibly sobering.
This couple in need had to leave their modest apartment due to being flooded out; they will be in the motel room with a tiny fridge and a hot plate for cooking for the next two months, maybe longer. As I walked the hallway to their room, an elderly lady paced the floor praying the rosary with a blank stare on her face. How many more of these folks were behind closed doors? Chris, the disabled man has diabetes and some other diseases and will soon lose his teeth. 90% of his disability income is taken up by rent payments. If he has money to buy food, he has to take a bus to the store and attempt carrying only a couple of bags of groceries. His wife lost her employment in this economy two years ago and cannot find another job. As I looked in their kitchenette there was no sign of food. I also provided him with a few gift cards to a grocery store and his eyes teared up and he says they can now buy milk. Forget the holiday presents and festivities.
Something is very wrong when our “American Dream” has come to this state of affairs. Well, I’m hungry too. Hungry for dignity. Hungry for a smaller gap in income disparity. Hungry for social justice. Hungry for our community values to acknowledge those less fortunate.
Last year, Second Harvest worked with nearly 500 partner feeding agencies to distribute 24 million pounds of food into the community. It is inspiring to see the Central Florida community coming together to fight local challenges, but together we can take this to the next level. And, we must.
Please take a moment, count your blessings and find a local non-profit organization that could use your help. The need exists 365 days of the year, far beyond the holidays. If you do this already, thank you.
On my way back to the office, the backed up traffic was still at the mall and so was this unfortunate couple along with thousands of kids, working poor and the elderly…all behind closed doors. What a difference a meal can make; what a simple way to help others with the most basic of needs.
President/CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida