“We’re all in it collectively:” The Orlando pantry meets the rising demand
It’s no secret that central Florida has been hard hit by the economic shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millions of jobs have been lost and people are in need.
But we also saw the community rise. People like Stephanie Bowman, who started One Heart for Women and Children in College Park.
Bowman has been helping families in need for years, but she says the past few months have been unprecedented.
“Fifteen weeks ago, COVID-19 started and everything changed drastically here at One Heart,” Bowman said.
She’s been saying lately that her pantry of groceries doesn’t last quite as long.
“Before COVID-19, we helped about 3,000 people every month, and now we are helping over 20,000 people.”
A steady stream of cars lines the street outside a small warehouse on Rio Grande Avenue in Orlando. They are waiting for one of the few parking spaces to open. Bowman, along with most pantries, has put in place a drive-up process for the distribution of food.
“Gloves on, mask on, and we’ll ask you to open the trunk,” Bowman said as volunteers rolled carts full of groceries across the sidewalk under the hot sun.
It’s been like this for months.
To keep up with the demand, they added traffic control.
Donna Gregory voluntarily wears a neon yellow vest and watches the traffic as she guides visitors in and out of the parking lot.
“We have about seven spots here and that’s prime property for me,” said Gregory with a laugh.
She has a lot of experience.
“I’ve been running valet parking for about 25 years, but that’s no good right now. That’s why I’m here to help the community and to help Stephanie.”
That seems to be the feeling here. Volunteers with new-found time are ready to help their neighbors.
“I love that we are all together as a family,” said Bowman. “We are one unit. We are one heart. “
Bowman is right next to these volunteers, loading cars and talking to their customers. She will tell you that every car that pulls up has a story and she should know.
“I was homeless with my children escaping domestic violence and we were homeless and ate out of dumpsters,” Bowman said.
Twelve years later and a few miles from where she slept on the street, Bowman is getting results so other families don’t have to do the same.
“Nobody has to eat from a dumpster on our watch. Nobody has to go hungry on our watch, ”she said.
“Oh yes, she gets results. She’s just wonderful, what she does for the community is amazing, ”said Gregory. “I don’t think she ever met a stranger.”
Bowman said a heart for women and children relies on volunteers and donations to keep them open. If you’d like to help, please contact: [email protected] or visit the website at oneheartforwomenandchildren.org
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