St. Luke’s United Methodist Church is situated close to the heart of Florida’s entertainment industry, and when the pastor and congregation learned of a big need nearby, the church joined forces with others to make sure the artists had food.
The church and Feed the Need Florida, as well as local arts community leaders, have come together to support the artists, technicians, and freelance creative and production staff who have been financially affected by COVID-19.
Feed the Need Florida is a public-private collaboration to feed people struggling to obtain healthy food during the pandemic. It is led by Orlando nonprofit 4Roots and the 4 Rivers Restaurant Group, along with a network of local restaurants and hospitality industry organizations.
According to United Arts of Central Florida, more than 8,000 professionals in the nonprofit arts sector alone lost work when the pandemic forced the nation to shut down temporarily. This includes people who work at concerts, theme parks and theaters. Many have not been able to return to their jobs.
One local arts advocate, R.K. Kelley, said the arts and entertainment community has been impacted, both financially as well as by not being able to showcase its talents for the public and getting audience appreciation in return.
“Many in the Central Florida arts community are connected to St. Luke’s (UMC’s) music and theater ministries, and we consider this group and their colleagues part of our church family,” said the Rev. Jennifer Stiles Williams, lead pastor at St. Luke’s UMC. “Feed the Need Florida and our collaborative partners are extending (the) St. Luke’s core values of community, hospitality and service to help us provide support at a critical time.”
The pandemic has had a negative impact on a large percentage of the community, and while the food program is geared toward workers in the arts and entertainment field, it is not limited to them.
“We support anybody who has lost either their job or their income due to the pandemic,” said Mariam Mengistie, executive director of missions at St. Luke’s. “If individuals come to any of the sites, we serve them with dignity and love.”
St. Luke’s started food distribution in mid-April at multiple sites – at St. Luke’s in partnership with 4Roots Foundation for the Arts Community and with mission partner residents in east Winter Garden in response to food insecurity. Another Feed the Need drive-thru is held Fridays at The Plaza Live, in Orlando.
“St. Luke’s pulled together more than a dozen community partners and businesses to do the food distribution in a meaningful way,” Mengistie said.
From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., entertainers can pick up packages provided by 4 Rivers Smokehouse. A team from 4Rivers prepares meals according to guidelines issued by the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mengistie said the food preparers from two restaurants were creative with the menu. Those picking up meals received packages filled all sorts of cooked meals — ham and vegetables, pulled pork with beans and rice, chicken with mashed potatoes, and spaghetti. There is fresh produce, baked goods and, when available, milk and eggs.
Specific non-perishable food items were provided for a specific demographic in West Orange County to support residents who have limited storage or food-prep capacities, Mengistie said. In east Winter Garden, the food was expected to supplement meals for at least three days for a family of four.
The church plans to continue distribution through this month, she said. In recent weeks, volunteers have transitioned into targeted distribution to support fewer families, all whom expressed an extreme food need.