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In declining economy, Interfaith Council steps up grants

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When the going gets tough, the tough here get going. And, yes, there is shopping involved.


SUN CITY CENTER – When the going gets tough, the tough here get going. And, yes, there is shopping involved.

In fact, you might say that this shopping is central to changing lives. There’s a young mother, head of a single parent household, enrolled in a state university because of it. Some South County families, hard hit by the lingering recession, have food on their tables thanks to it. A recent high school graduate has become the first in his family to enter college on account of it.

That same shopping practice has underwritten a $10,000 advanced learning computer lab at Reddick Elementary in Wimauma that, among other things, encourages youngsters whose first language is not English to learn it at their pace, unselfconsciously, using a familiar medium. It paid for a $50,000 patient room at Life Path Hospice, providing a pleasant, comfortable setting at the end of life. It covered the substantial copyright fees so that Riverview High School’s renowned drama department could produce one of Broadway’s most iconic plays.

The “tough” in this ongoing, always unfolding scenario are the dozens of volunteers, multiple thoughtful donors, several concerned houses of worship and untold numbers of shoppers behind the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center and its primary funds generator, the Nearly New Shop in the SCC plaza.

Together, they have succeeded in distributing funds now estimated to top easily $1million to kids and to students, to families and to readers, to the sight impaired and to the dying. All but a fraction of it has gone to South Hillsborough County recipients.

During the current fiscal year, they gave grants totaling $218,000, notes Naomi Foreman, the council’s grants chairperson. In the upcoming fiscal year, they expect to distribute something in the neighborhood of $235,000, she adds. Repayment is not required, but personal visits or letters to detail the impacts the monies have had on individual lives always are appreciated.

And it all started with a rummage sale. Forty years ago, three of SCC’s Christian congregations united in an outreach effort that combined their separate community assistance programs. They called it the Christian Social Action Council, according to a history compiled by Dr. Ken Barringer, retired psychologist long active in social services. Their first focus was supporting education: tutoring and scholarships. To achieve these goals, they initiated a rummage sale in October, 1971, held at the Wimauma Civic Center.

From that small but successful beginning grew the Nearly New Shop, opened in 1974 in Wimauma. With goods supplied by donors and the helping hands of store volunteers, the retail endeavor prospered, and then prospered more, to the point the shop was relocated to its present, golf-cart friendly SCC plaza site where it expanded again, only to outgrow the current digs, says Pat Pelton, council vice president. Traffic through the shop has continued to steadily increase, posting an uptick in sales as the recession has settled in, she adds

Along the way, the CSAC was joined by several more SCC churches, worship centers and the Jewish Synagogue. The formal title became the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, a not-for-profit organization and a 501©3 under the federal tax code. Non-denominational, it now involves not only Prince of Peace Catholic, United Community and St. Andrew Presbyterian, but also Trinity Baptist, United Methodist, Redeemer Lutheran, St. John the Divine Episcopal and the Unitarian Universalists, along with Beth Israel, the Jewish congregation.

The outreach grew as well. Both Meals on Wheels and the hot lunch program at the Senior Center in Wimauma were launched by the council, Barringer asserts. Plus, he goes on, the council had a hand in spearheading the county’s medical services in Ruskin as well as development of South Bay Hospital. It also has supported Mary Martha House in Ruskin, the local Redlands Migrant ministry and Beth-el Mission, while contributing to SCC’s own Good Samaritans and the Emergency Squad.

Two endeavors outside the South County that have received Council grants are Kids Place, the Brandon area safe house shelter for youngsters removed for their protection from dangerous situations by authorities and Southeastern Guide Dogs, the Manatee County operation that trains and provides assistance animals to enable greater mobility for sight and physically impaired individuals, including returning war veterans.

It all is supported, almost entirely, by Nearly New, an always changing, ever growing retail outlet favored by shoppers both local and outside the area that offers everything useful for house and family, from clothing to bedding, from electronics to furniture. The shop is open Wednesday and Saturday mornings, except during summer months when hours are cut back to Saturdays only. A relatively small amount of additional income accrues from periodic sale of a recycling bin and some cash donations, Pelton says.

Today, she points out, the Interfaith Council, through its grants committee, focuses its attention in three areas: local food pantries, varied non-profit charitable operations and, of course, educational scholarships.

This year, as economic conditions show no sign of improving, the council anticipates making grants to the three functioning South County food banks, grants that in the past have reached into the mid-four figures range.

In the upcoming cycle, the group also expects to award 20 to 22 scholarships to graduating East Bay and Lennard High School seniors. These grants are in $2,000 increments sent directly to the school in the student’s name and can continue annually during a student’s undergraduate career if a 2.5 GPA is maintained. “We look for deserving high school seniors who are not likely to be on the receiving end of multiple other money awards,” Pelton says. And, she adds, a Florida college or university is preferred; “there must be a very good reason for the student to choose an out-of-state school.” The grants committee also is interested in a potential scholarship winner’s activities in school and in the community.

When it comes to giving funds to other charitable groups, the council requires that those recipients be designated as tax exempt operations in the the 501(c)3 classification. And, when a request is initiated by a teacher, the school principal also is expected to sign the document, Pelton adds. In addition, an annual report outlining how the funds were applied is expected from every recipient group.

Moreover, she emphasizes,“ we don’t go to them, they have to come to us.” The grants committee will be considering applications for lump sum contributions on October 19. Deadline for return of the simple, one-page application is October 5.

The application form can be downloaded from the council’s website, www.interfaithcouncilofsuncitycenter.com, completed and returned by mail to the address provided. Potential recipients also can contact Foreman by telephone at 813-633-9118.

Funds distributions could begin in November, Foreman notes, as the committee works to, in Pelton’s words, “spread the wealth” among as many as possible in keeping with the council mission: “to enhance and enrich lives” while “providing immediate relief when needed” thereby “making our community a more caring place.”

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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