September is “Hunger Action Month,” and local organizations such as JFS continue the fight against hunger.
Standing in a small conference room toward the back of Jewish Family Services facility in Winter Park, Eric Geboff watches as volunteers make their way in to pick up food.
It’s Sept. 7, a usual Friday, but these volunteers are doing something important for their community — taking warm meals to seniors in need.
The sight of people taking time out of their day to help their neighbors and others is one that fills Geboff — the organization’s executive director — with hope.
“We’ve been providing food for 40 years to people in Winter Park, regardless of their race, religion, whatever,” Geboff said. “Our doors are open to everybody. As a matter of fact, over 90% of the people who walk through our doors are not Jewish.”
Along with the warm meals it sent out on that day, JFS also provided big bags of food items that came straight from its storage room, which sits a few doors down from the conference room.
The storage room is filled with everything from peanut butter and soups to baby powder formula and cereal — most of which was donated by residents and local businesses.
And JFS needs every ounce of the food it has: The pantry at the facility serves up 75,000 meals a year while seeing an average of 20 families per day.
“Hunger is not going away, and as a matter of fact, it is getting worse,” Geboff said. “Even though we hear stories about how the economy is improving and (how) people are generally doing better than they were 10 years ago, when we had this recession, what happens in every case — in every community — when recessions hit, the people at the bottom stay at the bottom.”
With the wide-reaching blow of the recession back in 2008, it’s not surprising Winter Park isn’t the only area affected by the issue of hunger.
According to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida — an organizations that serves six counties, including Orange — 14.6% of the Central Florida population is food insecure, which means more than 614,000 people do not know from where their next meal will come from.
An even more staggering number is that to fill the meal gap in Central Florida, 105 million more meals are needed.
Among those served by JFS, the elderly are the closest watched, said Geboff — who also serves on a number of committees at Second Harvest.
“One of the most important things we are looking at is hunger in the older adult community — more than anybody older adults are hungrier, because most of them are on fixed income,” Geboff said. “And the numbers are huge: There’s about 1,700 older adult families in Orange County (who) were food insecure.”
To help fight hunger in the elderly community, JFS and other local organizations have held multiple events where they take food to them.
Although JFS receives food donations daily, the organization gets a large chunk of its yearly supply from the four major food drives throughout the year, where they reach out to the community via social media in order to build up their food storage room.
The task of combating hunger — in both the elderly community and the community as a whole — is paramount, Geboff said.
“The Old Testament teaches us that we need to feed the hungry, and we take that very seriously,” he said. “And we have to clothe the undressed, and we have to house the homeless. Our tradition teaches us that we — who have the means to do so — have to help our neighbors who don’t have the means.”