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Making A Difference: A Bounty of Generosity

Central Florida’s Harvest Time International provides help and hope for those in need.

A local family served by Harvest Time International

When it comes to poverty, it’s important to note that it doesn’t discriminate; with just a few hard breaks or strokes of bad luck, anyone can find themselves in a position of extreme need. Particularly here in Greater Orlando, where the combined poverty rate across Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties is a startling 16.2 percent—a figure that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is above the national average. What’s more, previous polls suggest that this number will only continue to climb.

Heartbreakingly, many young children are among those affected. In fact, per the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), approximately 940,000 impoverished children reside in Florida alone. Further compounding the situation is our local economy’s heavy dependence on lowpaying service-industry jobs. Given these factors, it’s hardly any wonder why many cannot escape the vicious cycle of poverty.

Fortunately, local nonprofit organization Harvest Time International (HTI) is bringing hope to those most affected in the form of food, household supplies, job assistance and other initiatives— but they could use your help in offering a hand up to the numerous impoverished families throughout our community.

Humble Beginnings, Impressive Reach

“HTI was founded in 1991 by my wife Mary and me,” says Pastor John Murphy, and the couple still serves as the organization’s vice president and president/ CEO, respectively. “It began with our desire to help people. We gathered food and basic necessary items in our garage to distribute to families in need. Soon the garage was outgrown, and the first storage space was rented in 1994.”

Grown from the purest of motivations, the nonprofit has now become a positive force with an impressively broad impact, serving people locally, nationally and internationally. “Due to a rising need in the community, HTI was forced to relocate and add additional warehousing facilities over the years,” says Murphy.

“In the beginning, the focus was on sustaining local nonprofit organizations, soup kitchens and food banks in Central Florida and worldwide,” he adds. “In 1999, HTI opened its doors to directly serve local families through what today is known as the Community Hope Center and currently is serving over 800 families daily.”

Just a few years later, Harvest Time made the most recent move to its current headquarters, a 100,000-square-foot warehouse in Sanford. Now, the organization is a multifaceted resource offering several different services. Their largest facility, the aforementioned Community Hope Center, offers a stress-free option for low-income families and those that are otherwise in financial distress. All told, the center provides aid to several hundred families every day, and those in need can expect to receive clothing, household supplies and various food products.

In addition to this center, HTI has developed several other initiatives to further expand their mission. They now have four additional distribution centers both within and beyond Florida, and they’ve partnered with local nonprofits in the corresponding areas to keep supply up with an ever-increasing demand. They work to provide relief to areas affected by natural disasters, too.

Locally, Harvest Time has also built a partnership with the Orange Blossom Family Health Center to provide reliable health care for low-income residents. Furthermore, they coordinate with CareerSource Central Florida to match worthwhile opportunities with HTI clients seeking gainful employment.

They even have a program for the holiday season. Each year, Harvest Time’s Christmas Bag of Joy reinvigorates the spirit of struggling families in the form of more than 5,000 brand-new, completely free presents.

“Parents have the opportunity to select free toys for their children in a special toy store set up by thoughtful and caring volunteers,” says Murphy. “By empowering parents to provide for their children, we reinstate dignity and joy to the whole family. This is made possible by the generosity of corporations, churches, civic organizations, schools and families.”

Helping Those in Need

Harvest Time wants everyone to know that no matter the scenario, they are willing and able to provide almost every different form of assistance to any individual if ever the situation arises—as many of their clients can attest.

“It’s nice to know there is a place for almost all of someone’s needs when the time comes,” says Barbara, a local client who recently fell on hard times when her husband started driving for Uber and their government assistance became threatened. He was given a car for his work, but the expenses for the vehicle and higher insurance premiums are taken directly from his pay, meaning he takes home significantly less than what he actually earns.

Unfortunately, only gross income is used to determine eligibility for food stamps and disability, the latter of which Barbara was already denied for, despite being on oxygen. These difficult circumstances led her to HTI. “I was given food vouchers and important information,” she says. It has made a world of difference.

Rane, another HTI client, is a mother of four young children all under the age of 7. She and her husband are struggling because of their family’s outrageous health-insurance costs. Working fulltime has not been enough to cover a monthly premium of $900, and to make matters worse, they were denied in their application for food stamps.

Rane was unaware of any other options until her sister informed her of Harvest Time. She then went to the Community Hope Center and immediately felt welcomed.

“They really helped with items I needed for my kids that I wouldn’t have been able to afford elsewhere,” she says. “A lot of the staff feels like family. [Since then], I have invited several others to participate in their program.”

Some of the other families that have been helped by Harvest Time are in situations that are likely to have lasting negative effects. For example, a grandfather who received assistance is the sole provider for his grandson; a toddler who is on life support because of a pool-related fall. Another woman who requested HTI’s aid left her husband after she discovered that he had been abusing her daughter, losing her source of income in the process. Then there is the cancer survivor’s mother who reached out to HTI after medical expenses stemming from her daughter’s 36 surgeries left them in dire need of assistance. And the list goes on.

With so many individual and families in need, it’s plain to see that Harvest Time has their work cut out for them. However, the Murphys remain unfazed by this tall order— and humble about the positive impact they have made on our community.

“The most rewarding part of HTI is tangibly seeing positive results in changing the quality of life for needy and hurting people,” says Murphy. “It is our greatest joy to see people who were under the weight of poverty and low income find relief and eventually move to self-sufficiency. The stories are countless.”

To learn more about Harvest Time International and see how you can get involved, visit them online at HarvestTime.org. If you or someone you know is in need of their assistance, call them at (407) 328-9900.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s September 2017 issue.

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