2nd Annual Have a Heart Caring Castle kicks off February; two recipients profiled

The second in a series of articles on South County groups benefiting from the “Have A Heart Caring Castle” community food drive co-sponsored by JSA Medical Group and The Observer News, The SCC Observer and The Current. The drive runs through Feb. 28.

Mary & Martha House

M&M-House-LogoBy KEVIN BRADY

There can be few more harrowing experiences for a woman and her children than having to flee their home to escape an abusive partner. Alone, desperate and with nowhere to turn, that’s where the Mary & Martha House steps in.

The South County group provides emergency and transitional housing and support services to abused and homeless women and their dependent children so they can get back on their feet, gain employment and successfully transition to permanent housing.

Unfortunately, the need for this safe haven has never been greater, said Laurie Herring, director of programs and housing at the Mary & Martha House.

“It is a constantly increasing need,” Herring said. “I think there’s more of an awareness of domestic violence today. Women see other women who are dealing with the issue, and they are getting strength from that and coming forward. Unfortunately, sometimes other women don’t have an option because they are being put out of their home, so they have no choice but to look for an option for themselves and their children.”

New societal attitudes toward domestic violence have also translated to tougher sentencing and a no-nonsense approach from law enforcement.

“In Hillsborough County,” Herring said,  “they don’t play around; somebody goes to jail.”

Herring said the group feels fortunate to be a beneficiary of the Caring Castle drive.

“We are so blessed. It takes organizations such as [those behind the Caring Castle drive] to let organizations such as ours continue to do what we do,” she said.

Mary & Martha House was founded in 1982 by three women who saw a growing need to provide temporary, emergency shelter and longer-term transitional housing for homeless and abused women and children in unincorporated Hillsborough County. With all shelters in Tampa, women outside the city were left to fend for themselves.

Mary & Martha House appointed a board of directors in 1987, and the organization was incorporated the following year.

Today it serves as the only residential shelter located in South County that serves women with or without children who are homeless and /or victims of domestic violence.

Mary & Martha House operates two stores that benefit the charity.

The Rose Boutique, 100 East Shell Point Road, Ruskin, offers new and donated treasures in a fun-to-explore gallery in downtown Ruskin. This is the place to find brand-name clothing, jewelry and accessories at great prices.  To make a donation of women’s clothing to Rose Boutique, call 813-645-7874.

The Thrift Store, 1009 1st Street SW, Ruskin, carries furniture, clothing, housewares and more. To donate goods to the Thrift Store, call 813-645-7874. Limited pickup of larger items and furniture is available.

 

Shopping at the Good Samaritan Mission food bank is earned by taking classes at the Mission.

Shopping at the Good Samaritan Mission food bank is earned by taking classes at the Mission.

Good Samaritan Mission

Good Samaritan has a food bank. But the Wimauma charity is about a whole lot more than filling hungry bellies. It is dedicated to a holistic approach to enhancing the spiritual, emotional/psychological and physical quality of life of farmworkers and others living in poverty.

Anyone who wants to use the food bank must take short classes on issues ranging from HIV/AIDS to domestic violence, important issues for the Wimauma community and the surrounding area — any area, for that matter.

Each token earns the student an empty bag that they can use at the mission’s food bank, which is set up to resemble a small grocery store. Clients stroll the aisles, selecting the food they need. The more classes a student takes, the more tokens he or she can earn and thus fill more bags.

A typical week now sees 40 to 50 students taking classes at the mission.

While many in the Wimauma area keep the wolf from the door with the aid of government benefits, studies have shown other issues like diabetes and high blood pressure plague the community, said Rev. William Cruz Jr., executive director of Good Samaritan.

“This is what led us to change the direction of the mission to address those issues,” he said.

Building relationships with those they serve is what really matters in the long run, Cruz said. “It’s the respect, the one-on-one, face-to-face interaction, showing concern for how they are doing, praying with them, that’s what the people are really attracted to,” he said.

William Cruz Jr., center, and his wife, Theresa, work together to make sure Good Samaritan Mission addresses the deeper causes of poverty in South County. Kevin Brady photos.

William Cruz Jr., center, and his wife, Theresa, work together to make sure Good Samaritan Mission addresses the deeper causes of poverty in South County. Kevin Brady photos.

Cruz is a member of Hillsborough County’s first family of charity. His parents, Pastor William and Dora Cruz, founded the Good Samaritan Mission in 1984. A licensed family and marriage therapist with a degree from the University of South Florida and an ordained minister, Cruz took over at Good Samaritan in 2008.

Cruz’s approach to helping those in need started with an analysis of the community the mission served. Cruz’s study of national, state and county databases found a population struggling with domestic violence, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and gang violence.

“If we are really going to go to the core issue of what these people are going through and effectively help them to better their lives, then we need to address those issues,” Cruz said.

Cruz thought it would take three to four years before the ideas seeded in the classes would start to sprout in the wider South County community.

“But within three months we started seeing people transitioning from students in the classes to volunteering at the mission or even teaching the classes themselves,” Cruz said. “It’s about ushering people away from a culture of entitlement and into a culture of sharing and giving back to the community,” he said.

To keep their shelves stocked, Good Samaritan counts on grants from the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, the Sun City Center Community Foundation, as well as a number of local houses of worship.

For more information on the Good Samaritan Mission, call 813-634-7136 or visit www.gsmission.org.

The group also depends on community events like the upcoming “Family Salsa Festival” set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, March 21, at the mission, 14920 Balm Wimauma Road, Wimauma. Visit www.familysalsafestival.com for more information and directions.

 

What, where to donate

Donations of canned food and nonperishable food stuffs are welcome again this year at the “Have a Heart Caring Castle.” Donations of diapers, personal hygiene products and paper products are being sought this year for the first time; they will go to the Mary & Martha House.

Drop off donations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at JSA Activity Center, 787 Cortaro Drive, Sun City Center; or seven days a week at the Winn-Dixie Supermarket, 4445 Sun City Center Blvd.

Winn-Dixie in Sun City Center has a food container near the exit door for donations. Sharon Wolf, service lead, and John Custode, manager of the store, deposit items to kick off the campaign. Chere Simmons photo.

Winn-Dixie in Sun City Center has a food container near the exit door for donations. Sharon Wolf, service lead, and John Custode, manager of the store, deposit items to kick off the campaign. Chere Simmons photo.

 
 

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