United Against Poverty Orlando was founded in 2001 to notice the hundreds of thousands of people in need who were going unnoticed in Central Florida. At the time there was not a widespread definition of population we have now come to know as the working poor, but it was clear that those in need did not embody the traditional characteristics of poverty. These were not the individuals standing at the intersection asking for help; they were those who were silently struggling.
Originally named The Destiny Foundation (2001-2008) and later Community Food & Outreach Center (2009-2015), our organization has evolved over the years from simply helping families put food on the table to identifying the root cause of hunger and homelessness in this community. As we work together to stand UP against one of the most prominent and unresolved issues in our community, today we are proud to be known as United Against Poverty.
Today, UP Orlando (as our clients call us) has earned recognition as the busiest single-site social service agency in the state of Florida, serving an average of 525 individuals each day. In 2015, our campus provided services for 15,267 unduplicated families. 100% of program participants fall at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, and the majority reside in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties.
From the very beginning, UP Orlando was destined to be a different kind of charity-one that focused on offering a hand up, not just a handout. The organization started as a unique Member Share Grocery Program, which offered much-needed dignity for families. Its popularity quickly grew and, as traffic to the campus increased, our clients expressed a need to have additional services available on-site.
In 2009 our organization joined forces with Harvest Food & Outreach Center, a nonprofit based out of Vero Beach, Florida. Harvest Founders Austin and Ginny Hunt has experienced the hardships that accompanied growing up in poverty firsthand, and created HFOC in 2003 to offer a compassionate hand to guide families to a place of hope and stability. By working together, we knew that we could better serve those in need throughout Florida, ultimately helping them break free from the cycle of poverty. This partnership helped strengthen the day-to-day logistics of the Member Share Grocery Program and allowed us to expand our services to include crises care, case management, counseling, educational opportunities, specialty skills training and job placement.
The original intent of our organization was to help as many people in need as possible from the downtown Orlando area. The effort of our first volunteers was tireless and noble. The support from early donors was essential to making any impact at all. Our volunteers and donors have put a great deal of faith and trust in the leadership and vision of many wonderful men and women such as Scott & Tammi George, Austin and Ginny Hunt, Jeff Johnston, Dave Larue, Tommy Beck, Todd Ehinger, Don Drinkard, Andrae Bailey, David Flynt and many, many more. That faith has been rewarded not just in the hundreds of thousands of families we have served, but in the improvements of our process to do so over the years.
Our purpose has evolved from simply helping others, to measurably lifting families out of poverty for good. This distinction has been driven by our volunteers and donors who want to see more than just inputs and outputs, but rather outcomes…efforts that can show a tangible result. This leadership through vision is more important than all of the cans we’ve distributed or resumes we’ve helped write. However, it is the willingness of so many thousands of volunteers to stock shelves, bag groceries, sweep floors and visit with struggling families that has inspired our volunteer leadership to bold aspirations including ending poverty in our community.
More than 2,000 individuals and families support our cause financially each year. Their average gift is $43, but all gifts—whether $1 or $1 million— are incredibly appreciated. I wish I could call each and every volunteer and donor myself to say thank you. I spend a great deal of time attempting this effort, but we are hopeful that you also see our appreciation in the effort we dedicate on your behalf every day. We still tirelessly help low income families in downtown Orlando; however, we also work to ensure that these same families never need help again. This is entirely due to the commitment of volunteers and donors who have supported this work for so many consecutive years. Thank you for sharing in our mission!