ORANGE, Calif. - With so much stacked up against it, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County keeps trucking, committed to ending hunger one can of food at a time.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Second Harvest instantly lost 30,000 volunteers and most of its staff. At the same time, the number of people needing their food more than doubled and their whole operation shifted.
"Before the pandemic we got about 90% of our food donated and about 10% we had to buy," says Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County Chief Mission Officer Claudia Keller. "That has flipped, and we get about 10% still donated from large manufacturers. We don’t take individual donations anymore and about 90% we’re buying."
Determined not to fail, the food bank, one of the biggest in Orange County, reinvented itself, distributing food via a drive-through. Six thousand cars lined up for the first one, including Stephen Reifenstein, who lost his job in construction accounting in April.
"I never thought I would be in a situation where I would have to go somewhere for food even if I was unemployed," says Reifenstein. But he not only took food that summer day, but he also stayed back to volunteer, which he’s done for Second Harvest ever since.
"Stephen is an amazing example of someone being humble and saying I need help for his family but also having the humanity to say I can help too," says Keller.
It is volunteers and donations that enable Second Harvest to now feed about 530,000 people per month, compared to 250,000 before the pandemic. And that number is only growing, on top of food prices increasing, supply chain disruptions and new safety protocols.
That’s why Second Harvest is so reliant on the community; individuals, philanthropies, corporations, including FOX 11 and FOX Television Stations that have stepped up to that need.
"Literally every dollar is precious to us not only in buying the food but in maintaining the manpower and the operational logistics in getting the food out, says Keller.
Reifenstein says giving back has already rubbed off on his little girl. "Anytime there’s food that comes from them or we go to the box that comes from them she’ll say when I can do that. I have a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, and I want to show them no matter where you are in life that you can help."
After all, that's what makes the world go round.
"It is so bittersweet that we have to do this," says Keller, her eyes welled with tears. "It’s really sad like, 'wow we put out six million pounds of food this month.' That’s an amazing milestone, but we’re sad that we have to. In the end, it’s what we do. That’s how we’ll remember this time later in our lives."