Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stories of hunger inspire action in Central Florida


     The tragically elevating numbers of hungry familes in the Central Florida area reflect the true victims of a state hit hard by years of economic recession. Valencia College students are taking action against this problem and teaming up with the dedicated non-profit Second Harvest food bank of Central Florida.
    
     “We have changed our programming and the way we plan events,” said Zia Ur Rehman Ansari, Valencia Volunteers organizer . “We are doing more co-curricular pieces like this skill shop where we discuss particular social service needs in the community.”
    
     Part of the interactive portion of this event was volunteers gathering signatures on a new petition headed to members in the Florida State House and Senate. HB 531 works to reverse the budget cuts by the Florida Department of Children and Families for this year. And also wants to reduce and/or eliminate funding for the Challenge Grant and the Local Homeless Coalition Staffing Grants. These grants help to fund several programs that help less fortunate people develop life skills and break the cycle of poverty.
    
     The ultimate goal is to alleviate the rising poverty numbers seen not only in our local area but around the nation. The best tool used to help move an apathetic mind is sharing the personal stories negatively affecting the needy. Figures like “more than 732,000 Central Floridians are at the poverty level,” really grabbed the attention of those in attendance.
    
     This was all sharply presented by Jennifer Gibson, an events specialist, who spoke to students on behalf of her employer Second Harvest. “Hunger really is an issue that affects everyone, it doesn't discriminate on gender or ethnicity,” said Gibson.
    
     She shared examples of young children complaining to school nurses about feeling sick and lightheaded from hunger. These kids are often too embarrassed to ask for help, for fear of being singled out as a poor kid. Children that live at or below the poverty line frequently deal with hunger, and cases are seen when Friday’s meal at school was the last real meal for some some children when they returned to school on Monday morning.
    
     There was also a moving video presentation portraying the food centers working with families in our area. Actually seeing the poverty stricken people talk about the struggle and concerns they endure, struck an emotional chord with those in attendance. Hearing a mother cry, fearing of her children being malnourished is only one of the strong examples shared during this section.
    
     “I just wanted to get involved and learn more about helping the less fortunate people in my area,” said student volunteer Taleem Moncrease.
    
     Second Harvest works with its food distribution programs to pack and distribute meals and necessities to anyone who comes to them for help. There is also the ever rising concern of more people coming to receive help with less people able to make donations or volunteer their time.

By James Tutten
info@jamestutten.com

(Published: March 21, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 5.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Students sign grant funding petition headed to State Capital.

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