Good Samaritan Mission feeding hungry, body and mine

By KEVIN BRADY

A volunteer helps a family shop for food at the Good Samaritan Mission. Visitors earn the right to shop at the pantry by taking 30-minute classes on everything from diabetes to fire safety. Many students, more interested in the education they receive than the food, turn down tokens or give them to others they feel are more in need. Kevin Brady photos.

A volunteer helps a family shop for food at the Good Samaritan Mission. Visitors earn the right to shop at the pantry by taking 30-minute classes on everything from diabetes to fire safety. Many students, more interested in the education they receive than the food, turn down tokens or give them to others they feel are more in need. Kevin Brady photos.

The fifth in a series of articles on South County food pantries benefiting from the Have a Heart Caring Castle food drive. The drive ran through Feb. 29.

The pantry at The Good Samaritan Mission is in some ways incidental to the organization’s real purpose. The group is happy to fill hungry stomachs — and for customers, the pantry is more akin to shopping than a traditional food pantry — but it’s the minds, changing behaviors and opening doors to education that the group is really after.

“If you boil it down to to its most elementary parts, we collect food from the ‘haves’ and then you give it to the ‘have nots,’” said William Cruz Jr., who runs the Mission with his wife, Theresa. “They get the food and they say ‘thank you’ and they go back home and the interaction ends at that. So we thought, ‘What next?’”

“Next” turned out to be classes designed to address the myriad issues plaguing the local community. Good Samaritan has a holistic approach to enhancing the spiritual, emotional/psychological and physical quality of life of farmworkers and others living in poverty.

“For example, today we had the Red Cross come in and talk about what you do to prevent fires and the fact there are smoke alarms available for free,” Cruz said. “We also had a detective come from the (Hillsborough County) Sheriff’s Office to talk about gangs: Why do kids join gangs, what colors to look for and what kind of behavior you should be looking for in your kids.”

Jacqueline Richardson, wearing a name tag, leads an English class for a group of women at the Good Samaritan Mission, one of many classes at the campus. Richardson volunteered to teach the class where students earn a token for shopping at the Mission’s pantry.

Jacqueline Richardson, wearing a name tag, leads an English class for a group of women at the Good Samaritan Mission, one of many classes at the campus. Richardson volunteered to teach the class where students earn a token for shopping at the Mission’s pantry.

Another class on identity theft also drew a large crowd hungry for more information on the subject. “People are sitting down in the chair saying ‘talk to me.’ It was incredible,” said Cruz.

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. Class attendees are awarded tokens.

Each token earns students an empty bag that they can use at the Mission’s food bank. Set up to resemble a small grocery store, clients stroll the aisles picking the food they need. The more classes student take, the more tokens they earn and the more bags they can fill.

A typical week now sees 40 to 50 students taking classes at the Mission. Cruz’s 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 Jr. took over at Good Samaritan in 2008.

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 also sees the community taking ownership of the Mission.

Good-Sam-3“For the first three or four years when we came here we would get robbed. Every year. Nobody breaks in now and that’s because it’s their place,” he said. “If you break in here, you are taking from the community because it’s the community’s [place]. It’s not Bill and Theresa’s place.”

The group also depends on community events like the upcoming “GSM Plant Sale,” Saturday, March 5, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the “Family Salsa Festival,” set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, March 19, at the Mission, 4920 Balm Wimauma Road in Wimauma. Visit www.familysalsafestival.com for more information and directions.

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

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