Loving People at the Local Level

Kelly Quintero has always had a love for helping people at the local level.

Before graduating in 2013 with her bachelor’s degree in political science, Quintero was eagerly involved with the school community. She was the president of the NationalOrganization for Women at UCF. She participated in the UCF College Democrats club. She helped plan, organize and execute the Take Back the Night event, seeking to end sexual assault and harassment on campus.

“I loved being part of the campus life and helping younger students figure out how they can make an impact,” she said.

She even found the time to participate in an internship in Tallahassee with State Senator Geraldine Thompson during her last semester, thanks to the UCF Legislative Scholars Program.

“Through the political science department, I was able to do internships that added to my experience,” Quintero said. “Working in the political world is all about who you know, and those internships really helped me get my foot in the door.”

Her internship led to a long-term role with Orange County tax collector Scott Randolph, where she ultimately became the Deputy Communications Director. “I learned a lot about the importance of local government, but I needed a change,” she said.

Her change came in the form of a phone call, asking Quintero to work as the Central Florida Political Director for the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016.

“I took the chance and spent the longest two months of my life working for the first female presidential candidate from a major political party,” she said. “It was an amazing experience.”

When the election ended, Quintero headed back to Tallahassee to accept a lobbyist position with the League of Women Voters of Florida. It was then that she heard about the opening for her now-current role as the Director of Advocacy and Government Relations at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

Now, Quintero uses the knowledge and skills she gained from working in political landscapes to help close the hunger gap in Central Florida. Her role allows her to educate others about the importance of Second Harvest’s services, which feed nearly 500,000 food-insecure individuals in the community.

“My favorite thing is being able to educate elected officials, community leaders and other organizations about the one in six Central Floridians who have no idea where their next meal will come from,” Quintero said.

Her work frequently involves providing data and facts to community leaders to find opportunities for policy change.

“The biggest thing that I’m working on now is the Farm Bill,” she said. “This is the single largest piece of legislation that addresses hunger and is renewed every five years.”

This bill provides funding for both agricultural producers and low-income families, and Quintero is in charge of helping people understand the impact it could have on the resources Second Harvest needs to help the community. She helps secure advocates and donors to help contribute to the food bank’s services, which include funding a 14-week culinary training program and supplying food for both pantries and after-school student meals.

Quintero also participated in Second Harvest’s post-hurricane response after the storms devastated parts of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

“I worked with commissioners in our area to bring non-perishable food to areas without power,” she said. “What sticks out the most is how quickly the food bank went into action after the hurricanes.”

That fast reaction time enabled Second Harvest to open almost immediately after the storms to provide help to those affected. The food bank, with Quintero’s help, came together to create and distribute family food boxes to evacuees who had escaped to Central Florida in the aftermath.

“I was able to build solid relationships with my new coworkers and provide assistance to the most vulnerable in our community,” Quintero said. “It’s been such a humbling and heart-warming experience being at Second Harvest the last six months.”

Quintero credits her career with her start in politics.

“Politics can be so off-putting nowadays, but it’s so important to know who your elected officials are,” Quintero said. “I think the most important level of government we have is right here in our community. Decisions are being made every day by our locally elected officials, and those are the decisions that will affect us much faster than those made at a higher level.”

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