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Hero TACKLING HUNGER Paco Velez, President & CEO of Feeding South Florida, believes that hunger impacts every aspect of our community, and although it’s an enormous issue, it’s solvable with the commitment of the community. T E X T BY SA N DY L I N D S E Y F eeding South Florida was founded in 1981 as the Daily Bread Food Bank. At its inception, it solved two problems: it aimed to make sure people didn’t go to bed hungry; and it ensured good food didn’t go to waste. “Today, we still provide immediate access to nutritious food whenever families need it, not only at monthly or quarterly distributions,” says Paco Velez. “We also lead hunger and poverty advocacy efforts through our network of food banks as well as the 400 partner agencies we serve. Additionally, we work to transform lives through innovative programming and education.” They’ve also broken ground on a new facility and programming that educates families about nutrition, cooking, financial literacy, resume-building and computer literacy, and will also provide job training to help clients attain higher-paying jobs and self-sufficiency. Velez started food banking in 2000 in San Antonio. “My first food bank wasn’t nearly what it is today, which gave me the opportunity to drive the mobile pantry truck, conduct agency site visits and work my way up to Executive VP,” he says. “I expanded the department from 8 people to 80 over the span of 12 years, creating the first food bank call center, implementing a health and wellness team, establishing a commercial kitchen with culinary 72 training, and providing meals to senior sites throughout San Antonio and the surrounding area.” Closer to home, Feeding South Florida received a call just before the December school break from a high-ranking school official in one of the counties they serve. “They were desperate to get two school distributions conducted before the break started,” he says. “At the end of the second distribution, the school official shared the reason for the urgency: In visiting the schools, he came across a student who was throwing a tantrum in the hallway. As he approached the student and asked what was the matter, the student responded by saying that he didn’t want to go on holiday break because he wouldn’t have anything to eat.” Feeding South Florida is now working toward having a school pantry in-house available to families and accessible when needed. “Hunger is all around us; it’s at our job sites, our places of worship, our children’s schools…everywhere,” he says. “Although there are 784,110 individuals who don’t know how they’ll get their next meal, including over 264,000 children, there are many more individuals who can help make a difference through donations, volunteering or lending their voice. Hunger is solvable and providing food is easy; it’s poverty that’s complex.”; FeedingSouthFlorida.org.