Who knows how long the effects of COVID-19 will linger in our community.

And “effects” reach far beyond whether someone gets sick from the virus. Two months ago, businesses closed and jobs were furloughed or cut all together in the name of flattening the curve and slowing the spread. While recovery has started, it will be slow.

Local food pantries, who have seen the number of families they help regularly increase from three to seven times, are looking to every source possible to stave off hunger in the community.  Osceola County has provided the dozen or so food pantries here nearly $120,000 since the pandemic took hold in March. But local government also needs to help in areas like housing help and small business assistance.

Enter Osceola REDI (Recovery from Emergency Disaster Initiatives), a formal system to respond to critical issues in Osceola County which deploys after main support systems offer their relief, and the Feeding Osceola initiative, which is working with the private and public sectors to raise $100,000 to keep the overwhelmed food pantries propped up while in an unprecedented pandemic.

Support systems are overloaded, and the issue of food insecurity isn’t just hitting homeless people. It’s also people still working, whose wages go nearly all to housing and transportation. From that need comes Feeding Osceola,  a way to resource our food pantries make them able to continue to feed our families.

The county asked Osceola REDI, which usually goes into action during hurricanes or big events like the UNNO Boutique fire in 2015 once government and insurance do all that can, for its help — and this is where you the public comes in, if you’re looking for an outlet to help and are willing and able.

Osceola REDI has partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank and the county to raise $100,000 to help families living in Osceola County feed their families during these unprecedented times. Thus far, just over $10,000 has been raised. The fundraiser was originally set to go through the end of June, but it’s been extended.

“This is a long-game approach to support the pantries. We have 12 to 15 of them and they spend about $1,000 per week, and demand is outpacing the resources,” said Sue Ring, the assistant director of Community Vision and Osceola REDI’s secretary. “Since this will go on for a while, we want to be able to make healthy donations to these facilities and not just a few hundred dollars at a time.”

The goal is ambitious, but the need is great, Ring said. And, with this initiative, 100 percent of  dollars raised will go to the pantries. And that’s where the focus is — dollars. While pantries still accepted donations of canned goods and non-perishable items, they have to be strongly vetted in a COVID-19 world, and if money is passed on to pantries, they know the specific needs of their clients and where to go to get them.

If you have the will and ability to help in these times, go to Feeding Osceola’s website where you can donate online, or mail a check to Osceola REDI to 704 Generation Point #101, Kissimmee FL 34744.