This post was submitted by Matthew Tanner, City Impact Manager at The Mission Continues. The original post can be found on The Mission Continues’ blog.
Following the mass destruction in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, The Mission Continues’ Orlando 1st and 2nd Service Platoons were driven to find a way to make a positive impact.
Home to one of the country’s largest Puerto Rican populations, Orlando has a deep relationship with the island, and has been projected to receive tens of thousands of Puerto Rican over the coming weeks and months who now live without a home or sense of normalcy.
Orlando’s 1st Service Platoon focuses on mentoring and working with youth who have come through the juvenile justice system in partnership with Home Builders Institute/Project Bridge.
Robert Withers, the Platoon Leader for this platoon, says that he feels connected to this mission because it allows his to address “issues affecting children who are typically the most vulnerable to suffering, and the least able to do anything about it.”
“I see the Orlando 1st reducing the number of incarcerated youth and empowering veterans to serve in new ways,” Robert said.
He explains why he is dedicated to serving others, especially on Veterans Day. “My time as Platoon Leader has reignited a passion for not only selfless service but mentorship and camaraderie.”
“I had an exceptionally difficult transition into civilian life after losing my leg and retiring from the Army. I needed a new direction to re-establish my sense of purpose. I wanted to continue serving my country through service to my community and regain the sense of purpose I felt I had lost.”
Orlando’s 2nd Service Platoon has been partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank (SHFB) to build food pantries in schools and feeding host partner locations across Orlando, which allows for them to maintain a larger supply of food to provide students, families and community members.
It wasn’t immediately apparent how we could find a way to maintain our operational focuses while serving these Orlando newcomers until we brought all of our partners to the table and began brainstorming ideas.
When we told SHFB about our desire to support Hurricane Maria victims, they proposed we target the Orange County schools that were going to see the biggest influx of new Puerto Rican students. What came from this collaboration was Operation Veterans Day: Puerto Rico Relief, a unique opportunity to take a huge step forward with directly helping new Puerto Rican students and their families.
Robert explains that the weekend’s project “bridged the gap between the Second Harvest Food Bank and schools with the highest influx of new Puerto Rican children. Many of these schools need their pantry rooms for classes but have more children to feed than ever.”
With space already limited in a majority of public schools, we conceptualized a Mobile Pantry Unit (MPU), that we could build and transport to these schools in need. Each MPU sits on caster wheels which makes it mobile, and it expands into a full food pantry.
Cheyanna Johnson of Second Harvest Food Bank said they are “constantly working with community partners to be innovative in creating access to food resources. The partnership with The Mission Continues has created an innovative approach to reach teens at school.”
This project in particular fulfills a need. Cheyanna explains that “With the minimal space, providing non-educational resources to students is at risk of being eliminated from schools. The mobile pantries provide a solution that works around this issue.”
Once schools receive their MPU, SHFB has committed to ensuring that each remains stocked with food for daily and weekend distribution of food for the students and families dealing with food insecurity.
This is also where Home Builders Institute (HBI) comes into the picture. HBI offers several programs for youth, including developing job skills that prepare youth for careers in the residential construction industry. Hands-on learning and development of building skills is essential to the success of their program.
Melissa Geiwitz of HBI said, “Our focus has been on developing service projects, allowing youth to work side by side with the Platoon. This past Saturday marked our 12th service project together and it was nothing short of amazing!” These projects are important, she said, because “service provides our students with experience beyond the classroom, which we all know is invaluable.”
Once we had developed the concept and blueprint for the Mobile Pantry Unit, this opened up a perfect opportunity for HBI staff to incorporate the builds into their curriculum and recruit over 20 HBI youth to our Operation Veterans Day service project, where we built four MPUs.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of Disney, the lead sponsor for the Orlando 1st Service Platoon. As soon as we shared our idea for how to support Hurricane Maria victims through our MPU’s, Disney immediately wanted to continue their support of our work.
Not only did they bring 25 of their own staff volunteers to the Veterans Day service project, but they also organized and facilitated arts and crafts for all the children of the veterans and volunteers that showed up to help us complete our mission that day.
Results from Orlando’s Veterans Day Service Project
- 100 volunteers participated in the project. Among them were The Mission Continues platoon members, HBI youth and staff, Disney staff and volunteers, and T Mobile (our contributing sponsor) volunteers.
- We met our goal of building four MPUs successfully.
- Because of the volume of volunteers, we completed additional HBI beautification projects. Projects included building planter boxes, landscaping, and painting.
- Participating youth enjoyed fun activities with Disney. Volunteers enjoyed catered lunch from Mission BBQ, a DJ, bubble machine…and an ICE CREAM TRUCK!
We hope this innovative model is one that we can continue to produce in Orlando to provide more schools and feeding partners with MPUs.