The fifth 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, WFLA Ch. 8, The Observer News, The SCC Observer and The Current. The drive runs through Feb. 28.
Our Lady of Guadalupe pantry serving more seniors
Last year, the Our Lady of Guadalupe food pantry served an average of 175 families a week. This year that has increased to 200, said Tom Bullard, co-director of the food pantry.
Clients come from all over South County, with the majority hailing from Wimauma and Baum. The affluent, well-kept lawns of Sun City Center are also no stranger to hunger, Bullard said.
“We are seeing a lot more seniors, also.”
The pantry, which gives each family a 40- to 50-pound box of food every two weeks, has more than 1,200 families signed up for aid. “Although that can increase, depending on the donations we receive,” Bullard said. “We sometimes get some fresh fruit from farmers, so we will give that out to people.”
Founded in 2000 when Our Lady of Guadalupe volunteers handed out food on Saturday mornings, the pantry has grown into one of the county’s largest. “When I started 10 years ago, we were serving 50 families a week,” Bullard said.
The typical box includes the staples of a balanced diet — protein, vegetables and potatoes. “It’s not enough to last them for two weeks, but it will last them at least a week,” said Bullard. “I know many also use other local pantries to supplement what they receive from us.”
Bullard, who has turned the pantry into almost a full-time job, praised the dedicated volunteers who work behind the scenes every week. “We couldn’t do it without them,” he said.
The pantry is very grateful for the donations from the Caring Castle drive, Bullard said. “The more we get, the more we can give out.”
For more information on Our Lady of Guadalupe or to find out how you can help, call 813-741-2000.
Number six in the series:
Lord’s Lighthouse a beacon for area’s hungry
Pastor William and Dora Cruz are not your typical 80-something couple.
While most of us might be looking to ride out those twilight years enjoying a well-deserved retirement, the couple started the Lord’s Lighthouse.
After a lifetime of helping others – they started missions throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, including the Good Samaritan and Beth El missions in South County – they retired in 2008. That didn’t last long.
They founded the Lighthouse the same year, serving around 50 families a week. Today, the pantry provides food for more than 300 families a week.
“We were ready for retirement, but after a few months we decided we were still strong and we still had the call from God to help the poor, so we contacted St. John the Divine church and they opened their doors for us,” Dora said.
Hungry families begin lining up at the pantry on East College Avenue before 7 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, food distribution days. “Many times the food is all gone by 10 a.m.,” Dora said.
When it’s available, each family receives a 10-pound bag of dietary staples, including beans, rice and tortillas and anything else that might have been donated that week. When the pantry runs out, “we don’t have money to buy rice, pinto beans and the cereals — the things the children like,” Dora said. “We are very short. We have a few faithful contributors but [the need is great].”
The mission’s Access program also provides clients with help applying for federal programs like food stamps, Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security. The Lighthouse’s clothing and furniture store also help, especially in cold weather.
Now 82 — her husband is 85 — the couple doesn’t plan on sliding on the comfy slippers and settling down to watch TV anytime soon. Belief in their mission keeps them serving the poor, Dora said. And every little bit helps.
For being part of the Caring Castle Drive, “We are so grateful,” Dora said. “The community has such a compassionate heart to feed the hungry.”
The Lord’s Lighthouse, 815 East College Ave., is always looking for donations of food, clothing and furniture. Financial donations are especially welcome as these can be leveraged to buy food by the pound from local suppliers. For more information, call 813-641-7100 or 813-321-9723 or visit the group’s website, lordslighthouse.org.
Note: The Lighthouse is currently looking for a new home after the church property where they have operated their mission to the hungry and homeless was put on the market. “We are waiting for God to provide us with another place,” Dora said.