Osceola County has more than 20 food pantries, spanning from Poinciana to the St. Cloud region of Osceola County. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw an increase in nonprofit agencies and churches offering pantries in our community, including Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Solid Rock Church of God, the Calvary Assembly of God, Church and Community Assistance Program (CCAP), the Salvation Army of Osceola County and the Hope Partnership program who distributed food to the community.
Additionally, the Osceola Council on Aging (OCOA) also hosts a community pantry located on our main campus at 704 Generation Point in Kissimmee.
As the Council has focused on nutrition services as one of our largest contributions to our community, we are thrilled to announce we will be expanding that reach into St. Cloud. As of January 2022, the Council will begin managing what’s currently housed as the St. Cloud Community Pantry at 901 Missouri Ave.
The St. Cloud Community Food Pantry has been a staple of St. Cloud for more than 35 years, though the pantry will close as such on Dec. 31.
According to Tammi Madison, the Director of the St. Cloud Community Pantry, who has served in her role for the past eight years, while volunteering for 16 years beforehand, the pantry operated with 100 percent volunteers and seven local churches. Though stepping down from her formal role, she hopes to continue to support and mentor by developing additional food pantries in the Osceola community.
“I’d like to thank the City of St. Cloud for its support in providing the building for the food pantry. There are so many to thank for supporting us, from schools, businesses, and former clients paying it forward,” Madison said. “I wish the City of St. Cloud and Osceola Council on Aging the absolute best by continuing to provide these services in our growing community.”
Not only will OCOA be expanding and managing the pantry at the existing location, but we are also creating a formal office to better share outreach programs. Our goal is not only to run and expand the food pantry, but to better communicate to St. Cloud residents the multiple Council programs available including support for rent, utilities, and housing rehabilitation programs. Though we are still in the planning and developmental stages as to daily operational decisions like hours of operation for the new site, we do plan to host drive through pantry pick-up options due to Pandemic safety initiatives.
In 2019, the OCOA distributed more than 650,000 pounds of food from our campus food pantry alone. During 2020, 1.8 million pounds of food were distributed with 450,000 home delivered meals. Singularly, the Council based pantry in Kissimmee supports several thousand individuals while providing nutrition services to seniors, disabled adults, and disadvantaged families.
With the increased demands in the number of low-income households served, our food pantry demands have also increased. The pantry relies heavily and will continue to do so with our new St. Cloud location, on the assistance of community volunteers who donate through monetary means and/or community workplace food drives. Additionally, the OCOA collaborates with local partners to purchase crops for meal production and food distribution. As an example, the Second Harvest Food Bank, Walt Disney World, and Mick Farms support providing fruits and vegetables; Publix Super Markets, the Treasure Coast Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and local government funding from City of Kissimmee, City of St. Cloud and Osceola County also supports our efforts. Food drives conducted by churches, community service organizations, private businesses and individual donations also provide food. In addition, the Council’s agreements with four trucking companies accept food overages refused by local grocers and distributed (based upon availability) through the Food Pantry.
The Council also utilizes locally donated fresh and canned foods along with food purchased through nutrition grants to provide comprehensive food packages. Our local Boy Scout troops and U.S. Mail Carriers partner to conduct annual food drives to provide donations. With all this said, it’s important to note, our food pantry is always open to accept donations, and with the Council’s second location opening in St. Cloud, we will warrant even more support. We request food items consisting of both dry and canned foods which are nonperishable and can be shelved long term. Also, food which has not reached its ‘sell-by’ date. Specifically, we need:
Peanut butter, canned soup or stew, canned fruit, fruit cups, canned vegetables, fish, meat and beans, whole grain pasta, spaghetti sauce, brown rice, dry milk, cereal, boxed macaroni & cheese and potatoes, pancake mix and syrup.
We are excited to begin this new venture in St. Cloud to not only help support nutrition services for the community, but our expansive service programs available through the Council. Finally, I want to personally say thank-you to both Tammi Madison for her more than two decades of philanthropic work to support the St. Cloud community, and the City of St. Cloud for allowing us the opportunity to not only use their building for our food pantry, but also their partnership in continuing this mission. I know the OCOA will make them proud as we continue their mission to support and expand programs for St. Cloud residents.
Editor’s Note: The St. Cloud Community Pantry has stopped taking donations. It has purchased three-month supplies of grocery store gift cards for current clients, who will also receive additional cards for purchasing Thanksgiving items.
Wendy Coschignano-Ford is President/CEO of the Osceola Council on Aging