Reading Reindeer: Give the gift of reading

The Orange Observer is collecting new books for children from birth to age 17 to be delivered to those in need just before the holidays.

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Books collected through the Orange Observer Reading Reindeer literacy program are put directly into the hands of the West Orange County residents who need them most — underserved children participating in several local programs.

One of those programs is the long-running West Orange Christian Service Center, a nonprofit dedicated to the local community since 1981. When help is needed, the Christian Service Center is there, according to its mission statement, to help prevent homelessness, combat poverty, cultivate self-sufficiency, restore hope and glorify God through the faithful provision of services that directly address physical, emotional and spiritual needs for families and individuals who are struggling in Central Florida.

In the 1970s, Orlando’s downtown churches recognized a growing need to help provide assistance to low-income and underserved residents, a need greater than each of the churches could facilitate individually. Several churches joined together to establish the Christian Service Center for Central Florida Inc.

The parent organization had been helping people in Orlando for 10 years when West Orange County church leaders got together to see about bringing the program to the west side of the county.

The West Orange location opened in 1981 in downtown Winter Garden to provide basic needs to the poor and homeless. The first service offered was Family & Emergency Services; the others were created later. In the early years of the program, its four services were scattered around Winter Garden and Ocoee.

In 1988, Daily Bread began serving out of the fellowship hall of the First Methodist Church of Ocoee. The West Orange Christian Service Center moved all of its services under one roof — to its present West Orange Family Life Center in Ocoee — in 1997.

Daily Bread continues today. Folks who are hungry can participate in the Daily Bread program from 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday at 300 W. Franklin St., Ocoee. For some people, the lunch is the only meal they will eat that day.

KidsFOCUS is an after-school and summer day care program that provides a safe place for children in low-income families to learn and grow. The program is exclusive to the West Orange campus of the CSC. It is also unique among after-school and day care programs in various ways, including its discounted rates, academic focus and family participation. A family doesn’t have to have a financial hardship to send their children there, but if they are, the staff will work with that family to provide scholarships and a discounted rate.

The Love Pantry program started in 2011 to provide struggling families and hungry children with an emergency food supply directly through 13 public schools. There are now 63 participating schools, including Ocoee, Citrus, Spring Lake, Maxey, Independence and SunRidge elementaries; and Windy Ridge K-8 School.

​Even when schools were closed because of COVID-19, the Love Pantry distributed 36,042 food items to impact the lives of 12,083 household members, of which 7,208 were children.

CSC’s flagship program, Family & Emergency Services, provides immediate emergency assistance and relief to families and individuals who are faced with an unexpected financial crisis. The primary goal of FES is to help families maintain their residence and prevent them from being forced into homelessness.

At the onset of an emergency, FES is available to offer assistance in the form of food, clothing, rent or mortgage assistance, utility assistance or other immediate services. FES works with individuals in a case-by-case basis to help develop a sustainable action plan aimed at improving the long-term situation of families and individuals.

Help might be something as simple as providing a bus ticket to the next job fair or granting the amount of money needed to make a car repair so a person can afford to feed his or her family. Sometimes, a family may need assistance paying the electric bill or the mortgage.

Families are able to receive financial assistance because of donations from churches, organizations and individuals.

The West Orange location also operates a thrift store, open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Fresh Start WASH & Wellness Program provides a mobile shower trailer through Clean the World Foundation for homeless folks from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays.



Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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