For a week each March, thousands of people participate in the American phenomenon known as spring break, an annual vacation often associated with sand, sun, relaxation and fun. Many spring breakers take the opportunity to seek warmer weather and head south. Cities like Orlando, South Padre, Palm Springs and San Diego receive an influx of visitors eager to get away for a quick vacation.
So when most of us picture these towns, we picture them as paradises – places to forget our cares beach or poolside. The reality is, however, that hunger exists in these towns as it does everywhere else in America. Where we go for sunshine, there is also struggle. But Feeding America food banks are working hard to help make life a little easier.
In Orlando, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida serves nearly 500,000 people each year at food pantries and meal programs. Yet its goal is to do more than simply feed people. Second Harvest wants to end hunger as well. To do so, it’s capitalizing on its thriving tourist economy.
Enter Second Harvest’s Darden Foundation Community Kitchen – an 18-week culinary training program that provides qualified, at-risk and economically disadvantaged adults with the culinary and life skills training needed to pursue a sustainable career in the food industry. The program has seen tremendous success – in part because Second Harvest is able to leverage its community’s thriving tourism economy to place students in the plethora of food service jobs it provides.
“There is so much opportunity for culinary students in Orlando because of all the tourism,” said Idalia Nunez, life skills education manager at Second Harvest. “We’ve developed strong relationships with prominent restaurants and hotels in the area. Several help our students practice interviews. I’m proud to say that they are often so impressed by what they see that they end up hiring the students they were coaching.”
On the other side of the country, FIND Food Bank in Indio, California is fighting hunger in Palm Springs – another spring break destination – and its surrounding slice of southern California’s desert paradise.
“We live in a beautiful place that millions of people visit every year,” said Chantel Schuering, community relations director for FIND, “but at the same time, many of the people who make this a great destination are often struggling to get by.”
The cost of living is extremely high in Palm Springs and its surrounding areas. A working family of four needs to make at least $74,000 a year to make ends meet – but 46% of the region’s full-time families are making less than $50,000. Part of this might be because much of the region’s employment (tourism and agriculture) is seasonal, so families are forced to go without income for periods of time.
Although having an economy rooted so strongly in tourism has its challenges, FIND Food Bank is also taking advantage of its opportunities. “We are developing partnerships and relationships around our tourism industry that help us meet the gap that exists for people who live and work here,” Chantel said.
One way FIND is doing this is by hosting its annual telethon, strategically held in April when the town swells with spring breakers. “We have a great partnership with a local station that donates prime time for the event,” Chantel said. “For the last several years, its raised thousands and thousands of dollars.”
The work being done by Feeding America member food banks in Orlando and Palm Springs is just a small example of the dedication of food banks across the US, all working hard to serve their communities. They are committed to making sure that their communities aren’t just great places to visit, but great places to live as well – places where everyone has enough to eat and can enjoy a little sunshine.
Stay informed, see what hunger looks like in your favorite spring break state.