Host Your Own “Cans Over Candy” Food Drive


Families in your community, in my community, need help. And kids can do a LOT toward meeting that need by asking for “Cans Over Candy” this Halloween to stock food pantries, like Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida or ones in your state.

My son Daniel, now 14, has never been a big candy eater. (Not even chocolate! Now THAT’s scary!) For most of his young life, Halloween was a time to get dressed up and hang out with his friends. He wasn’t all that excited about his “haul,” but in the experience of being together, and laughing, and just having a good time.

Having seen me participate in various charitable events at and in support of Second Harvest Food Bank, Daniel became interested in helping, too. At a family-friendly sorting event with y husband, he got his first look at what a food pantry does, and who it serves.

At the intersection of “what he enjoys” and “how he can help,” Daniel decided to start collecting Cans Over Candy.

In his first year, 2019, he handed out flyers a few days before Halloween to let everyone know what he was doing, so they could prepare. At “Trick or Treat” time, he went out with his friends (while wearing a Second Harvest Food Bank shirt) to collect for his food drive. (Click HERE to see his video.) Our generous neighbors came through with an overflowing cart of canned goods, boxed foods, and assorted bags of non-perishables that we delivered to Second Harvest Food Bank the following day: over 130 items (surpassing his goal of 120!).

Enter: Global Pandemic

Food Insecurity existed before Covid-19, but between lock downs, loss of jobs, families being directly impacted by loss of life, or illness, the need for communities to step up and reach out was increased. As Central Floridians, we saw a lot of hospitality industry friends directly impacted. The need was greater, so the goal was greater to collect items to help fill in the gap for people who might otherwise do without.

For 2020, Daniel upped his costume game and wore a Star Trek uniform and mask to collect what turned out to be DOUBLE what he collected previously. (Do we have amazing neighbors, or what?!)

Support your community by hosting your own Cans Over Candy food drive.

Feel free to download the flyer below, to support Second Harvest Food Bank.

(Click HERE for a PDF with no logo, so you can insert the name of the Food Bank in your area.)

Taste! Central Florida

One of my favorite food events of the year is coming up soon, the newly re-branded TASTE! Central Florida Saturday, August 19, 2017 from 6:45 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.


In previous years, proceeds (from what was formerly called Taste of the Nation) have impacted thousands of lives both locally and around the country. Organizers have decided to further pinpoint the direction this year by advocating more directly for those in our neighboring communities struggling to put food on their plates. TASTE! Central Florida is one of the largest fundraisers of the year for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

Check out all the fun!


Tickets are $150 per person and can be purchased here.

What can you expect?

The beautiful ballroom at Orlando World Center Marriott is wall-to-wall with tables of bountiful, fun, and creative food and drink options. They’re not, however, the only offerings. Guests can participate in a fully-automated mobile silent auction featuring signed memorabilia, stays at upscale hotels, dining experiences, rounds of golf on area courses, and exotic adventures and getaways.

Taste! Central Florida is also bringing back the Edible Orlando Giving Tree, where guests can win certificates and gift cards to Orlando’s most popular establishments. Donate $50 for the chance to select envelopes hanging from a towering tree. Prizes range from $25 to $300 in value. It’s an exciting way to donate. Who knows what you’ll win?

Wine lovers will enjoy the Instant Wine Cellar game where participants have a chance to win more than 150 bottles of wine valued at more than $2,500!

Guests can also take their chances on winning a bottle of wine with a Ring Toss For Wine fundraiser. When a ring lands around a bottle neck, the guest wins a bottle of wine to take home. Last year this was incredibly popular. Who wouldn’t want to win a bottle to take home?

Who else LOVES going to this foodie event?



Taste of The Nation 2016 Takes A Bite Out of Childood Hunger

tasteChefs provide delicious, nourishing food to their guests, so it’s only fitting that chefs would join forces for an event that helps fight the nation’s childhood hunger epidemic.  August 27, 2016 they will be out in force at Orlando’s Taste of the Nation® for No Kid Hungry.

Leading up to the event, Orlando’s Taste of the Nation introduces the Golden Ticket Giveaway, offering an exciting new way to win a pair of complimentary tickets to this year’s event. Guests who dine at select, participating establishments can golden ticket winnerask their server for a Golden Ticket to receive a concealed envelope that may contain a pair of tickets to this year’s event. Chances of winning are 1 in 10. Follow hashtags #OrlTaste and #GoldenTicket for a list of participating restaurants and updates on remaining Golden Tickets. The Golden Ticket Giveaway runs through Aug. 22.

At Taste of the Nation, forty-two of Central Florida’s most distinguished chefs will showcase tasting portions of signature dishes, accompanied by fine wines, craft beers and specialty cocktails at the Orlando World Center Marriott to ensure children struggling with hunger in our city and across America are connected to the meals they need.

New to this year’s event are nine of the area’s most popular and exciting restaurants including:taste 2

Benihana, Canvas Lake Nona, Eleven and Forte at Reunion Resort, Hemisphere Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport, Nova Scratch Kitchen, The Osprey Tavern, Restaurant ASH, and The Rusty Spoon.

Several popular brewers, wine purveyors and spirit vendors have also been tapped for this year’s event, including Brew Bus USA, Cigar City Brewing, Crooked Can Brewery, Orlando Brewery, Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Lakeridge Winery, Nestle Waters | S. Pell & Acqua Panna, Onli Beverage Co. taste 4

In its 27th year, Orlando’s Taste of the Nation for No Kid Hungry is the region’s longest-running and most trend-forward food and beverage event raising funds and awareness for children’s nutrition programs provided by national beneficiary Share Our Strength, regional beneficiary Florida Impact, and local beneficiaries Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

In addition to appetizing food, fine wines, craft beers and premium spirits, guests also enjoy a fully automated mobile silent auction featuring signed memorabilia, stays at upscale hotels, dining experiences, rounds of golf on area courses, and exotic adventures and getaways.

The Giving Tree raffle, sponsored by Edible Orlando, returns for the second year inviting guests to win a taste of Orlando’s most popular establishments. For a $50 donation, guests can select a Giving Tree envelope hanging from a towering tree containing a gift certificate ranging from $25 to $300 in value.

Taste of Nation 1The event’s ever-popular Instant Wine Cellar game offers participants a chance to win more than 150 bottles of wine valued at more than $2,500. There are only 250 chances to win this exquisite wine cellar. Each key is a $25 donation.

Guests can also win fine bottles of wine with the all-new Ring Toss for Wine fundraiser. Rings are available for purchase to toss onto wine bottles ─ $5 for two tosses or $10 for six tosses. When a ring lands around a bottle neck, the guest wins a bottle of wine to take home.

Orlando’s Taste of the Nation is presented nationally by Citi and Sysco and sponsored by OpenTable, San Pell/Acqua Panna and media sponsor Food Network. Special thanks to local sponsors Darden Restaurants, Regions Bank, Harris Rosen Foundation, Noble Marketing, Disney, FreshPoint, Hilton Grand Vacations, Bright House, Darden Federal Credit Union, Ernst & Young, Patriot National, Rosen Hotels & Resorts and Universal Orlando Resort.

Taste of Orlando Helps Ensure No Kid Hungry

Social Graphics4Forty-four of the area’s most accomplished chefs will showcase tasting portions of signature dishes, accompanied by fine wines, craft beers and specialty cocktails August 8, 2015 at the Orlando World Center Marriott, to ensure that no child grows up hungry in our city and across America.

Proceeds from this event support children’s nutrition programs provided by local beneficiaries Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, regional beneficiary Florida Impact, and national beneficiary Share Our Strength. Every dollar raised fights hunger and homelessness in the Central Florida. Local beneficiaries include Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

Tickets can be purchased HERE. As an adult who was a hungry child in Orlando, I hope you’ll come out to support this event that helps so many.


Taste of the Nation is Huge Success

TasteNation.jpgAugust 9, 2013, The Orlando World Center Marriott welcomed Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation®. Featuring the area’s finest appetizers, entrees, desserts and spirits, Taste of the Nation 2014 set a new fundraising record of $301,317 to support the feeding programs of Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, Second Harvest Food Bank of CIMGP5819smentral Florida and an organization dedicated to reducing hunger and poverty in Florida statewide: Florida Impact.

Retro rad celebrity chef Emily Ellyn and I arrived at the event in race-red style, as part of a cross-blog  Southeast Ford promotion where I got to test drive a brand new Ford Fiesta for a week for Central Florida Top 5. The plan was to take ‘er for a spin to those events that are Top 5 on our family’s list: Travel, education, charity, culture, food. Happily for me, most of our stops involved a combination of two or more of those each time. Taste of the Nation Orlando, was no exception.

In addition to sampling some of the most delicious bites from chefs around Central Florida, guests enjoyed participating in raffles and drawings of epic proportion (like a trip to Oktoberfest in Germany and over a hundred bottles of wine!). The highlight of the night: two chefs (Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant and Alexia Gawlak of Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen) went head-to-head in a live cook-off. Emceed by Food Network celebrity chef Melissa d’Arabian, the contest allowed 20 minutes for each chef to create a dish using Creekstone Farms sirloin flap steak and pantry staples donated by Whole Foods Market. Though I would have enjoyed tasting both dishes, I didn’t envy judges Scott Joseph from Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide, WFTV’s Bob Opsahl, and Honorary Chair Helen Donegan. While both dishes were prepared expertly (and smelled heavenly!), Chef Gawlak was declared the winner.


Area restaurant bloggers and pro foodies flank coral-colored Food Network divas Melissa d’Arabian and Emily Ellyn.

Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Orlando event brings together the area’s top chefs who donate their time, talent and passion to end childhood hunger in Central Florida. Along with culinary delights, guests have the opportunity to sample select wines, cocktails and premium beers and enjoy silent and live auctions and entertainment. Every dollar raised fights hunger and homelessness in the Central Florida. Local beneficiaries include Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.





Great American Milk Drive

milk drive feeding americaA favorite childhood memory is the treat of having a PBJ and a tall glass of milk. When I visited my grandparents that delicious combo was often accompanied by a couple cream-filled chocolate cookies and an orange (we’re Florida natives, so we had oranges with just about everything!). As grocers, my grandparents never lacked in fresh healthy foods when I visited, or eventually came to live with them. That wasn’t the case when I lived in Orlando with my mom.

old grocery store register

1950s, opening day at my grandparents’ grocery store in Florida.

After my father died, my mother had a hard time getting back on her feet. My half brother and I spent many a day riding our bikes on the roads around Colonial Avenue while my mom tried to work things out. We climbed the tree on the empty lot down the street with the neighborhood children, and the “big kids” often ran ahead on the bumpy brick-paved roads while the scrawny toothpick-legged ones like me did our best to catch up! We knew we went hungry sometimes, but like most kids in that situation we weren’t convinced we were poor. It was “just the way it was”, though if a friend offered a snack or a meal while visiting their house… well, you didn’t have to ask us twice!

Today there is a new generation of children in Orlando and throughout Florida who don’t have the “luxury” of fixing up a quick sandwich whenever they please. Perhaps they’re like we were who often settled for a “jam sandwich” (where you take two pieces of bread and “jam them” together) and no milk most days, but water. We were not alone. Today, 1 in 5 Central Floridians are struggling with hunger each day.

Second Harvest Food Bank is one of the stop-gaps for families like mine. Through their distribution of food in to more than 500 nonprofit partner agencies in six Central Florida counties, people who want just a little help to get by are given the food they need for themselves and their children.

This year, FlBlogCon has partnered with the Florida Dairy Farmers to spread word about the Great American Milk Drive, to help raise awareness and funds for the single most requested food staple: milk.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Click on the picture to hear how Jesse Tyler Ferguson is helping spread the word about the Great American Milk Drive and how donations are shared in your community.

Our family has already made a donation so other families and individuals who request milk can receive it. Here’s my challenge: If you have no problem purchasing a gallon of milk or more each week, I hope you’ll consider “virtually” picking up a couple extra for your neighbors. It “does a body good” to drink it, and it does a heart good, too, to share a tall glass with others, if only online. No way to give? No problem. Blog, share, or post to Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest (or wherever!) using the hashtags #FLblogging4good and #floridamilk to spread the word with your friends and family. Who knows… some FaceBook friend might not be posting on their wall that they could use help from Second Harvest and the Great American Milk Drive.

milk drive


Dining in the Dark Orlando 2014

I’m not going to lie. It was a strange sensation, to say the least. “Dining in the Dark,” while sounding mysterious and exciting from a culinary point of view, sounded DiningDarkNightVisionSmintimidating and, OK I’ll say it, scary from an emotional standpoint. Second Harvest invited the community to join them May 8, 2014 for a unique evening of fine dining to support not only their efforts feeding the hungry in Central Florida, but Lighthouse, an organization that assists the blind and visually impaired in our area.

The event began with a cocktail reception in the Second Harvest warehouse. In the middle of racks piled sky-high and refrigeration cases bloated with healthy goodness to be shared, we were serenaded by Asli Goncer, a local performer, while we enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres. During this time we got a chance to meet our servers, the Orlando Police Department SWAT Team who let the “civilians” check out their night vision headsets. Some of us tried on the apparatus, while others just checked it out from afar. As the meet and greet hour grew to a close, so too grew my apprehension.

While I’ve never been arm-in-arm escorted by an officer of the law before, in this instance it was the only way to find my way to the dining room, not to mention my chair. The officer in charge of our table asked a couple of times if I was OK. (While I could see nothing, he could see the panic on my face.) Happily, though, my friend Emily Ellyn had done “this sort of thing” before and was a comforting presence, not to mention our table’s go-to gal on determining what we were eating. dining in the dark SWAT

When the first course was set before us, I felt the bowl-like shape and laughed at the very real possibility that soup was on the menu. They were not as mischievous as I had envisioned, and instead presented us with a seared seafood boudin blanc (a seafood mix that is cut to resemble a scallop in shape, size, and texture). First course guess: wrong, but pretty darn close as I thought it was a scallop.

The salad was an easy guess, but I wouldn’t have picked out the pickled shaved radish (that I learned later looked so vibrant on the plate). Guessing which pitcher held water and which had iced tea was accomplished with the “whiff” test, while the wine was being passed with running commentary as to being white or red. There were, thankfully, no comments from the SWAT officers on the horribly inaccurate pour job I, nee we, did getting beverages in our glasses!

dining dark scallopOver great conversation with my table-mates, we were then presented with the main course, a grilled lamb chop with a spring garlic and potato whip. I’m sure I wasn’t the only diner who, when presented with a big ol’ delicious bone sticking out, picked up my chop to munch happily. I learned that while there’s freedom when most everyone around you is in the same blind boat, it must be exhausting to live in that state at all times, constantly gauging your movements.

While I have intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be a hungry child in Central Florida, my experience with blindness is confined to migraines where, in my case, I go temporarily blind in one eye for as little as a few minutes, to an hour or more. My minor association with vision loss is enough to make me shudder at the reality faced by the visually impaired. More than any part of the event, that hard-hitting message touched a nerve.

One fellow guest who works at Lighthouse shared how their work helps families of young children either born blind or through trauma. Can you imagine teaching a toddler how to play pat-a-cake, or stack blocks? I, a grown woman, had a hard time finding my mouth for one evening (and it’s been in the same place for forty-some-odd years). Things we so often take for granted are absent daily to members of our community. Thankfully Lighthouse of Central Florida provides many critical services for the blind of all ages, as well as helping with job placement and training.

Second Harvest’s decision to partner with Lighthouse on Dining in the Dark was a great one, as people do tend to turn a “blind eye” to hunger. I doubt people around me even knew I was a hungry kid at the time. Adults rarely talk about it, and kids are embarrassed to share. (I remember I was!) Fortunately Second Harvest gets food in the hands of those who need it, so there are fewer kids like I was… wondering where my next meal would come from, and not even knowing who to ask for help.

I look forward to attending more Dining in the Dark Orlando events in the future. Not only was I impressed with the stellar job done by the chefs who donated their time (thanks Disney Chef team!) and the culinary students in the Darden Community Kitchen, but it was a great way to experience food in a more sense-ual way. Dining with heightened awareness to sounds, smells, temperature variations, brushes against your arm, etc., made for a memorable time.

Please keep an “ear out” for future Dining in the Dark events. Foodies and adventure-seekers alike will be happy to hear about this unusual outing that tickles your taste buds, awakens your senses, and warms your heart knowing that each ticket purchased helps bring a little more light to some dark corners right here in Central Florida.


Thanks Second Harvest for letting me originally share this as a guest post (here).

Shedding Light on Central Florida Hunger and Blindness

dining dark imagesmWhen I was a child, there was no such thing as Second Harvest here in Central Florida. The house I grew up in (not far from Fern Creek), provided shelter, but was often not often stocked with healthy foods. Some days it didn’t have any food. That’s just the way it was. I know the feeling of a rumbling stomach, and remember clearly how hard it was on occasion to focus in school because I didn’t have enough to eat. Those memories make it all the more personal for me to promote the excellent work done by Second Harvest Food Bank.

Thursday, May 8th, 2014 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is partnering with Lighthouse Central Florida to host a unique event, Dining in the Dark, to support both their excellent services here in Central Florida.

Dining in the Dark is a sensory experience, as well as a dining event like no other. Diners usually expect to be wowed by a lovely presentation, a grill mark or two, or a vibrant color that indicates an amazing meal to come. But what if you couldn’t see the meal in front of you? (And what if you couldn’t take a photo for Instagram!?) At a Dining in the Dark event, the sense of sight is temporarily blocked. Smells and sounds take on new meaning as you soak in the experience with other senses taking the forefront. Temperature, texture, acidity, sweetness… the sound of glasses clinking, the brush of a server’s arm by your chair… Close your eyes and imagine.

The elegant three-course meal will be prepared by Second Harvest Food Bank’s very own Chef Dawn Viola and her team and will be served by the Orlando Police Department SWAT Team (who will need special night-vision goggles to see what the guests cannot!).

The Dining in the Dark Orlando dinner is an artistic event designed to enhance dining pleasure for sighted guests. Dining in the dark—the daily experience—is nothing out of the ordinary for those with vision problems. Lighthouse Central Florida helps people living with vision loss and blindness in Central Florida and offers them a comprehensive range of services.

Your ticket purchase price helps fund both organizations: Lighthouse Central Florida and Second Harvest Food Bank.

Tickets to Dining in the Dark are $125.00 each to include a cocktail hour from 6–7 p.m. with passed hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, and live music, followed by a three-course gourmet meal prepared by Second Harvest Food Bank’s very own Chef Dawn Viola and her team from 7–9 p.m. Learn more, or purchase tickets by visiting

Special offer: Through May 5, purchase tickets for 25% off!
No code needed. The new price will show up in your cart.

Wine, Women and Shoes at SeaWorld Ports of Call

WWSCollage01SeaWorld Ports of Call is the place to be Sole (Soul!) Sisters for Wine, Women and Shoes Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 2–6 p.m. WFTV’s Jorge Estevez will emcee the event for the second year in a row.

More than 350 local women will be treated to heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine tastings (of course!) and shopping from national and local boutiques (shoes, purses, make-up, and more) with 20 percent of those sales going to Second Harvest. Guests will also enjoy a live and silent auction (I want the chocolate shoe!) plus a fashion show featuring designer Diana Simaan.

WWSCollage2Wine Women & Shoes is the only event of its kind where 100 percent of the ticket proceeds go toward fighting hunger in Central Florida. All said, the event will raise over $85,000 to Feed Hope Now! For every $1.00 donated, Second Harvest can provide $9.00 in food value to those in need.

SeaWorld Orlando is once again donating the Ports of Call special events venue, in addition to providing Chef Hector Colon’s food creations*. Also provided are live and silent auction items**, parking, and special guest appearances by Animal Ambassadors and their feathered and furry friends.

To purchase your ticket (general admission is $75), Call (407) 514-1017 or email Jennifer Landress,

See you there!

Special thanks to the Wineries involved and all the amazing sponsors:

  • Justin
  • Landmark
  • Sequin
  • Handcraft
  • One Hope
  • New Age
  • Cannonball
  • Raymond
  • JCB

*What’s on the menu?

  • A variety of flat breads and pita breads with assorted hummus and Tabouli Salad
  • Imported and domestic cheese and fruit display with
    an assortment of gourmet crackers
  • Cinnamon Sweet Potato Puffs
  • Macaroni and Cheese Bar with an assortment of toppings, including: Broccoli, Roasted Red Peppers, Crispy Pancetta and Truffle Oil
  • Smoked Tenderloin Sliders with Caramelized Sweet Onions, Red Wine Reduction and a Horseradish Mayonnaise
  • Dessert Assortment of mini pastries and fruit tarts

**What is SeaWorld putting up for auction?

For the Live Auction: SeaWorld, Aquatica and Discovery Cove V-VIP package for six!
For the Silent Auction: 4 SeaWorld and Aquatica combination tickets with a gift basket, 2 Discovery Cove Dolphin Swims with VIP basket, Sharks Underwater Grill gift cards for 4, Marine Mammal Keeper Experience for 2



Hector Colon is Featured at Second Harvest Guest Chef Event

Executive Chef Hector Colon SeaWorld OrlandoHector Colon is the Executive Chef/Director of Culinary Operations for SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove and Aquatica. His skills make him a sought-after chef, and he’s using his amazing food talents to raise funds for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Thursday, September 19, 2013 at the Morgan & Morgan, PA Hunger Relief Center at the Second Harvest Food Bank center, 411 Mercy Drive, Orlando, FL 32805. Chef Colon makes some incredible dishes, including Duck Confit over Wild Mushroom Grits (read about it and get the recipe here).

The Guest Chef Event, held monthly with local chef-celebrities, is a unique event for a select group of diners. Each event is limited to 100 diners. What’s especially unique is the live video feed from the kitchen to the dining room so guest can see all of the action. Also of special note, culinary students work alongside the guest chefs preparing each course as part of their Second Harvest culinary training core curriculum.

On the menu for the $50-a-plate fete?
Lobster tamale
Sweet Corn Buttered Lobster and Caribbean Spices on a Traditional Corn Husk
Chipotle Avocado Cream

Baby Greens
Watercress, Feta, Toasted Sun Flour Seed Pomegranate and Mango
Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Costillas en Vino Tinto
Boneless Short Rib in Red Wine
Celery Root Puree Chimichurri Sauce Fried Yucca and Brocoline

Vanilla Bean Milk Chocolate Flan
Roasted Sweet Coconut Candy and Bourbon Maple Syrup

Proceeds for the event go back into the Second Harvest Food Bank hunger relief program, because one in 5 Floridians don’t know where there next meal is coming from.

As a child growing up in Central Florida, I experienced hunger more times than I like to remember. My brother and I used to joke about having a “jam sandwich.” To make it, you take two pieces of bread, and “jam” them together.

Our family did not have the resource of Second Harvest back then. (The Central Florida branch was founded in 1986.) Thanks to the Guest Chef event, and other fund-raising efforts, more than 550 nonprofits will receive assistance in our area through the Central Florida Second Harvest Food Bank to help kids who are like I was, who need help from the community to have more than than a “jam sandwich” as a meal.