The Seminole Gardens Apartment complex is made up of one hundred and eight units tucked away in a pocket of poverty a mere twenty-five minute walk from the Palm Island Resort Marina on upscale Sanford Riverwalk.
Day to day life for residents of the “Gardens”, a small community living in cinder block buildings surrounded by open areas, ironically devoid of foliage, is difficult at best and harshest during the long summers when children have little to do while school is out.
The Summer Food Service Program provides meals to children in low income areas such as Seminole Gardens, yet the nearest feeding station is over a mile away, too far to reach under the scorching sun.
The “Gardens” has been trying in vain for two years to participate in the program according to Shayon Washington. Since last February, Second Harvest Food Bank has been working with area volunteers and churches to find a way to transport food directly to this community.
Last Wednesday, the first vehicle arrived carrying 100 meals. Volunteers had been trained and a regular feeding schedule established. The community center does double duty as a small church and now provides the necessary shelter for an orderly meal service.
As I walked through the doors I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout, the enthusiasm of the volunteers, the murmur of voices and the social interaction. This was not just about food. There was something more.
My eye was drawn to a poignant scene, a mother and child. The woman’s pride and dignity are front and center as she lovingly looks down at her little boy who has just received a full lunch including milk. He toys with the sandwich for a while as if it were a plaything, and then takes a big bite. Mother approves.
The two had just walked a few steps from their apartment to the cool sanctuary of the center. “Very convenient”, she tells me. Followed by a humble, “thank you”.
My day is complete. I know we’ve made a difference in not only a child’s life, but in a grateful mother and a warm community that simply lacks the means to lead comfortable lives many take for granted. For half the cost of a Latte, this child had a lunch and a snack. On Fridays he and all others will receive a pack of food to take home for the weekend.
Upon reflection, I realize that my most cherished memories and rewarding moments are gleaned outside of the office, in the “field”. In the trenches. Eye to eye with the problem. Face to face with our clients. Up close and personal.
I can now add “Mother and Child”, to my ever-growing collection of “precious portraits.” They thanked me. What I gave was little. What they gave me in return is priceless.
Special thanks to Kim Mowatt, Rob Bennerman of the Central Florida Dream Team, Shayon Washington, Cyndi Stephens and the selfless volunteers who have created something out of nothing, given the most basic resource – food.
Our Summer Food Team is made up of Patricia Suarez, Leann Chaney and Rosa Dalger. Without their enthusiastic help and commitment, the goal of serving 90,000 meals by August 15th would merely be an illusion.
Childhood Hunger Programs Manager