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.)

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.

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.