First came the pandemic. Then came the resurgence.
COVID-19 is more than a virus that impacts health. It impacts jobs. It disrupts livelihoods. And, in turn, it’s introduced more people to a struggle many of their neighbors were already facing: hunger.
It’s also made conditions even worse for those neighbors who were battling hunger before the coronavirus ever struck.
Prior to the pandemic, 2.8 million Floridians lacked access to healthy food, according to the Feeding Florida food bank network. That figure includes 800,000 children. In Orange County, home to Orlando, one in five students in the Orange County Public School System doesn’t know where their next meal is.
Entrepreneur and philanthropist John Rivers refuses to look the other way. Concerned about a growing lack of access to food, particularly when school meals became less available, he launched Feed the Need Florida for children and families who need a warm, nutritious meal.
“People we are feeding today were hungry before COVID-19,” Rivers said, “If anything, the pandemic has brought the severity of food insecurity to the forefront. It is telling of the need.”
Feed the Need Florida is a statewide public and private collaboration that looks for people who are “in the gap,” meaning they’re not currently receiving help from other relief organizations. The effort is led by Rivers’ Orlando nonprofit 4Roots and the 4 Rivers Restaurant Group, along with a network of restaurants and hospitality industry organizations across the state. 4 Rivers is the lead restaurant partner, leveraging its 4 Rivers BBQ resources to support meal preparation and distribution.
Regions Bank was an early supporter of Feed the Need. Orlando Market Executive Chris Hurst said the bank’s involvement, as well as corporate support through the donation of advertising to encourage people to donate to food banks, are just two of the ways the bank is helping communities get through the pandemic.
“Our teams at Regions Bank are working together to help people, businesses and nonprofits during a very challenging time,” Hurst said. “Across the communities we serve, we are seeing local business owners, like John Rivers, step up and make a difference. Regions is proud to work side-by-side with Feed the Need to help Florida families.”
John Bachman, Regions’ Commercial and Industrial Banking relationship manager in Orlando, spent the day recently volunteering with Feed the Need at its distribution site at Colonial High School near downtown.
“With more than one million meals distributed across Florida, and with no end to COVID-19 in sight, Feed the Need is making a huge impact across our communities,” Bachman said. “I saw firsthand the sincere need and gratitude of people who received a warm, nutritious meal. It’s a little help, hope and encouragement during these trying times. I believe in the mission of Feed the Need, and I’m extremely proud of Regions’ support of it.”
Regions is working with Feed the Need on additional volunteer service opportunities to help with food distribution. In addition to its volunteers at distribution sites, Feed the Need has been able to hire or rehire more than 300 employees from Rivers’ barbecue catering team to support logistics. The organization has 47 active sites across Florida and is serving meals four to five days a week.
Cars line up for contactless delivery so families and volunteers can remain safe. Whenever possible, additional bags of donated fruits and vegetables are provided until all is given away.
“Community partners like Regions Bank and others stepped up to bring this mission to life,” Rivers said. “They stepped up because it was the right thing to do during this crisis. They have shown a shared heart and concern to take care of people struggling in the community. Feed the Need stepped out on faith that God would provide resources for us to feed the hungry, and we are going to keep going until our mission is completed.”
Our teams at Regions Bank are working together to help people, businesses and nonprofits during a very challenging time.
Chris Hurst, Orlando market executive for Regions Bank
Hurst added that, while Feed the Need is providing immediate relief, it is part of a bigger vision.
“Feed the Need is about so much more than providing warm meals,” Hurst said. “It’s part of a larger effort to address hunger challenges across Central Florida.”
Feed the Need is an offshoot of Rivers’ 4 R Foundation. The Foundation’s key initiative is the establishment of a commercial working farm, training ground and innovation hub called 4Roots Farm & Agriculture Center.
In November 2019, the nonprofit announced plans for a 40-acre urban farm in the Packing District of Orlando. The goal of the project is to provide a space for people to learn about agriculture, farming, food waste and hunger. That awareness and education, Rivers said, can lead to major changes in the way society thinks about and addresses hunger.
“Food and hunger speak to my heart,” Rivers said. “To make a holistic change, we have to get the entire community engaged. 4 Roots Farm will be for everyone in our community.”
Rivers plans to break ground this fall on the first phase of the farm. Right now, though, his focus remains on serving meals.
“Feed the Need, 4 R Foundation and John Rivers are making an incredible mark on hunger in Central Florida,” Hurst said. “I believe John’s vision for addressing food insecurity will truly transform how we address poverty. John is inspiring hope.”
For more on Regions’ work to raise awareness of food insecurity and hunger, please read the stories below.