A line of hungry people stretched from Pastor Scott George's church door down to the street after the economy fell in 2001. The Wednesday night food pantry he had started with his wife Tammi was helping feed the homeless in Orlando, but only for a few hours until stomachs began rumbling again. The line kept getting longer each week, making Scott and Tammi realize something more needed to be done.
"We realized we weren’t truly helping them by feeding them once a week, so we started The Community Food and Outreach Center to help these people long term," said Tammi George. "Everyone that comes here works for what they get and is treated with respect, giving them the confidence to pick up the pieces.”
The Center expanded over the years from a simple church pantry to a one-stop shop in the heart of Orlando, where the homeless and the hungry can do everything in one building instead of traveling around town. With over 500 families coming by a day, everything is offered from life skills classes to healthcare and a low-priced grocery store.
“As our outreach program grew, so did my family,” Tammi.
Over the years she and her husband Scott had four children. With a full-time job it was hard to get downtown to The Center everyday, she said.
“I decided to start Women of Hope in 2010 with 12 other women from my neighborhood who wanted to give back to the community but had busy schedules like myself.”
Women of Hope now hosts two big events each year to help The Center: Hope in Heels, a fundraising party, and Christmas Mall, a special shopping trip when the women let the children from the Center pick out educational and athletic holiday gifts such as bicycles for riding to school. This April, Hope in Heels raised over $30,000 for the Community Food and Outreach Center, all without breaking a sweat while wearing their fanciest pairs of heels.
Hope in Heels is an annual upscale fundraiser where Women of Hope invite over 200 women from Winter Park and Maitland to participate in a silent auction of high-priced fashion and travel items, with the amount raised going to the Center – an organization that helps people looking to help themselves.
“We’re just a small grassroots group, but we manage to do all the hard work ourselves,” said Cheryl Loft, Women of Hope president. “That’s what’s special about one of our fundraisers. Most groups hire corporate people to plan these events, but it’s just the 12 putting it all together. You can tell in the details.”
Among the excitement of the auction, Hope in Heels had a special surprise for guests attending. Tammi and Women of Hope invited women who had turned their lives around with the help from The Center, giving them a night to dress up and show how far they’ve come.
“These woman are so proud of their progress,” Tammi said. “For the community to meet them and personally hear their stories, it motivates them to give a little more back and help out another family in need.”
The $32,222 raised at Hope in Heels this year will contribute to the Center’s summer funds, which will help feed families who rely on school for lunches for everyday meals.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned through all this is that when everybody does a little bit, it makes a huge difference,” Tammi said. “Whether people are helping downtown or at a fundraiser, we are giving people hope that they can get better.”