Beth-El Farmworker Ministry helping thousands from going hungry every week

The third in a series of articles on South County food pantries benefiting from the “Have A Heart Caring Castle” community food drive.

By KEVIN BRADY

Clients line up at the Beth-El food pantry, which serves up to 8,000 people a month. Dave Moore photo.

Clients line up at the Beth-El food pantry, which serves up to 8,000 people a month. Dave Moore photo.

Despite working all the hours she can and volunteering, Natalie (not her real name) counts herself lucky to line up every Tuesday morning at the food pantry at the Beth-El Farmworker Ministry in Wimauma.

“When we moved here in 2013, I did not know there was a place like this. It has changed our lives,” said the Riverview resident, who joins hundreds of others every week at the Mission, collecting a box of food staples that, in the case of Natalie’s family of six, helps supplement a meager food budget.

“It helps a lot despite the fact we also work, because it has everything the family needs to eat,” said Natalie, who also devotes her spare time to volunteering at the Mission. “It doesn’t have everything we need but it helps a lot. Last week we got tomatoes, eggs and avocado.”

An average of 450 people show up every Tuesday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Beth-El’s Wimauma campus, where they receive basic nutritional food like rice, beans, canned goods, cereal, pasta and bread. Very few people are collecting food for themselves. Like Natalie, the food goes to a family, which means that the pantry is helping at least four times the number who line up, according to Mission officials.

“At least 1,800 mouths are reached,” said Javier Izaguirre, who has been overseeing operations at the group’s food bank for the last 16 years.

The pantry receives food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Emergency Food Assistance Program, Feeding America Tampa Bay, food banks, food drives, local churches, clubs, organizations and individuals, according to Izaguirre.

With the USDA donations focused on nutrition first, donations like those from Caring Castle are a treat, Izaguirre said. “When we get donations like mac and cheese or spaghetti in a can — things we don’t [get] from the federal government — that’s a luxury for the kids.”

The number of elderly using the food pantry has also increased over the last few years, he added. “When the economy (was depressed) we saw many more people (up to 900 a week) but even when things leveled off, we saw more elderly people.”

Home to a charter school, thrift shop, adult education classes, legal aid services, summer camps and nursery, the sprawling 27-acre campus in Wimauma has come a long way from its humble origins in a small house in Ruskin.

Founded in 1976, when the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was looking for a place to hold Spanish-language church services, the Mission grew out of a desire to help migrant workers. Beth-El’s mission has grown over the years to encompass education, legal aid and a plethora of support services.

For more information on the Mission or to volunteer or donate, call 813-633-1548 or visit the group’s website, www.beth-el.org.

Where to donate to Caring Castle

Have-a-Heart-Castle-onlyThe food drive runs through Feb. 29. Donations can be dropped off at two JSA Medical locations: 787 Cortaro Drive and 781 Cypress Creek Blvd., both in Sun City Center, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donation bins will also be out at two Winn-Dixie stores, 4445 Sun City Center Blvd. and 1023 U.S. 41 in Ruskin.

The food drive started in 2014, a partnership of JSA Medical and The Observer News/M&M Printing. Also backing the food drive are News Channel 8 and Home Depot.

Food banks recipients:

Local food banks benefiting from the food drive are: The Lord’s Lighthouse, Our Lady’s Pantry, Good Samaritan Mission, Beth-El Mission, St. Anne Church, Calvary Lutheran Community Cupboard and RiverStone Church.

Organizers hope to receive more than 5,000 pounds of food this year, a 1,600-pound increase over the 2015 total.

For more information, call Rosie Korfant at 813-419-5020 or email r.korfant@jsahealthcare.com.

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