Orlando’s Meals and Masks on Mondays

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ORLANDO–Near the height of the Coronavirus quarantine, two Orlando-area churches combined efforts to expand an existing program, with their sights set on providing food and protective masks to more underserved members of their community.

With its dependence on tourism and travel related commerce, Orlando has been especially hard hit by the demands of the quarantine. “Families who rely on their incomes from the tourist and entertainment industries have suffered greatly,” said Danny de Armas, senior associate pastor, First Baptist Church in Orlando.

The church was “interested in expanding an existing food distribution program,” said de Armas and saw an opportunity to partner with a church neighbor, The Hope Church. The church, led by Archbishop Allen T.D. Wiggins, had already started an effort distributing groceries to families in need on Mondays, when resources permitted.

More than 100 families, in as many cars, drove through Hope’s food distribution each week, receiving enough food to provide six meals for each family. The food was placed in groceries bags and loaded in cars. Their challenge, however, was that due to the variability of resources, the church could not offer the service every Monday without interruption.

First Orlando joined Hope’s existing program and undergirded their efforts. The two churches have been able to increase the number of families receiving help, add consistency to both of their programs, and add masks to the supplies being shared each week– a major need in the community.

The program, appropriately named “Meals and Masks on Mondays,” partners with local food banks and organizations like Wal-Mart, has not been overwhelmed.  Wal-Mart allowed the churches to buy into their supply chain and, on occasion, functioned as a food donation collection site.

Additionally, First Orlando provided members a list of non-perishable staple food items to drop off at the church. Suggested donations were dried pastas, rice, grains, canned vegetables, canned meats, oatmeal, grits, cereal, granola bars, peanut butter, trail mixes and nuts. Donations for both food and masks could be dropped off on their campuses, seven days a week.

Then beginning on May 11, the churches began alternating the Monday event. Facilitated by 175 volunteers, First Orlando made a commitment to provide free groceries to 500-plus families. In future events the church plans to partner with the Convoy of Hope food ministry.

To date, the church efforts have supplied thousands of meals and masks to the community. In an early May interview, a First Orlando staff member offered advice to other churches wanting to start or bolster similar programs: “Partner with your local food banks, as many as needed to fill the needs of your community.”

Future Meals and Masks on Mondays are set for June 8 at Hope; June 15 at First Baptist; June 22 at Hope; June 29 at First Baptist. On June 26, First Baptist will host a food giveaway partnering with their local city commissioner. More than 500 families are served at First Orlando events while 100-plus families receive food at the Hope events.

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