By KEVIN BRADY
South County opened its hearts and pantries in February, donating 2,600 pounds of food to the “Have a Heart Caring Castle” food drive benefiting hungry families.
The nonperishable staples will be distributed to six of the area’s largest food banks.
“Everyone gave from their heart, and it really showed,” said Roseanne Korfant of Sun City Center’s JSA Medical Group. She came up with the idea to not only feed South County’s growing number of hungry families but also to raise awareness of an issue sometimes consigned to holiday season.
“We wanted to raise awareness,” she said, “that it’s not just during the holidays that people are hungry, but it’s every day of the year. I went to each of these food banks, and you see the empty shelves sometimes and you witness the dedication of the people who work there and what they go through every day trying to feed people.”
Inspired by the success of the effort, Korfant is already laying the groundwork for a similar drive next year.
“We already have people and businesses who want to come on board, and I think this is something the community will be looking for next year,” she said.
Local food banks benefiting from South County’s first Caring Castle were The Lord’s Lighthouse, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Good Samaritan Mission, Beth-El Mission, St. Anne Church and Life Church.
The Observer News, The SCC Observer and The Current backed the monthlong drive with design, print and editorial support, providing weekly updates on the amount of food collected and feature stories on the food banks benefiting from the effort.
“It was an awesome event where the community came together and Rosie really did a tremendous job,” said Wes Mullins, CEO of M&M Printing, parent company of The Observer News, The SCC Observer and The Current. “I am excited by the amount of donations that came in, and this is something we will definitely get behind next year. It comes at a good time for the food pantries because they have already gone through Christmas and they need to try to restock their shelves, so I think this is a good time for it.”
Putting their own unique twist on the drive, organizers built a castle using canned goods and other nonperishable foodstuffs as bricks as donations arrived at JSA Medical’s Sun City Center Office. The castle was redesigned and rebuilt weekly as donations rolled in.
Jack Lowell, a Sun City Center resident who helped build the Caring Castle, was pleased to see the number of donations, and would like to see the effort repeated next year.
“We owe something to the people we live with, otherwise we are just animals,” he said. “We have to help each other, and this is certainly as good as anything we could do.”
The amount of food donated for the drive demonstrates the heart of the South County community, said Don Jones, a Riverview volunteer.
“We have people in our community who are unemployed, and the elderly on fixed incomes who have a hard time making ends meet, so this is something that helps them put a nutritious meal on the table.”
“The volunteers were great,” said Korfant, who also cited the decision by Publix to post ads for the drive in their local stores as a major factor behind the success of the effort. “Publix putting up our posters that were designed by the Observer also led to people coming in with bags and bags of food,” she said.
Several community groups and classes at JSA Medical, particularly the line-dance class, also donated food for the drive.
As word of the food drive spread, donations came in all shapes and sizes.
Korfant said, “A colleague from JSA was purchasing a large bag of canned goods from the local grocery store and explaining to the cashier that she was making the purchase for the food drive, when the lady behind her said, ‘I’d like to pay for those groceries.’
“My colleague was in total shock when she asked the donor why she would like to do that. The woman calmly replied, ‘just because I want to.’”
The stories of hungry children resonate with Carmela Salerno, a Caring Castle volunteer and a seasonal resident of Sun City Center from Canada.
“It touches me to see those children,” Salerno said. “No child should have to go hungry.”
“I have children and I cannot fathom how children could go without food,” said volunteer Alisja Opacic. “Children are innocent victims.”
Among the other volunteers pitching in for the drive were: Janice Wideman, John Korfant, Dottie Holcomb, Lou Chiacchere, Lucy Chiacchere, Emma Peterman, Lucy Vazquez, Steve Sciuga and Mike Stryker.
The outpouring of donations for the drive was no surprise to William Cruz Jr., executive director of Wimauma’s Good Samaritan Mission, one of the food pantries benefiting from the food drive.
“We as Americans are always watching out for each other,” he said, “especially when adversity hits and people are having a hard time. They know their neighbors are there to help them.”
Giving to others not only helps those in need but the donor as well, said Cruz, who would also like to see the program continue as an annual event.
“It keeps the needs of the community front and center,” he said, “and people feel good when they are helping their neighbors.”