With a nod to heaven and a hand reaching out to South County’s hungry, Saint Anne’s Catholic Church in Ruskin dedicated a new food pantry.
Having worked within the narrow confines of two bays in a three-car garage, volunteers and church members were euphoric about the new building.
“We could do it out of the small building, but it was a hard fight every week,” said Dick McCaffrey, a volunteer at the pantry for the last decade.
Previously, volunteers would load shelves on a Friday while others would come in on a separate day and load food into 300 to 400 bags.
“Then we would have to move the bags from one room to another, and they would hand the bags to people at the window,” McCaffrey said. “Now, we have all the goods on tables, and people come by and help themselves to each item. It’s just a continuous line of people and [more efficient]. It’s unbelievable,” he said.
The new 4,000-square-foot pantry, adjacent to the 400-square-foot garage it used to call home, cost $200,000.
“When we built the new church, our prayer was that we use our time, talent and resources to reach out to the poor and feed the hungry and lay a legacy of faith for the future,” said the Rev. John F. McEvoy Vicar Forane, Saint Anne’s pastor. (Vicar Forane means a pastor is a dean of the diocese.)
Father McEvoy said he has seen the need for food increase over the years. “When I came here in 2003, they used only one room of the small food pantry, and about 80 to 100 people would come each week,” McEvoy said. “Now we have over 500 coming on some weeks.”
Saint Anne’s checkbook is not closing with the new pantry building. The church also just spent $25,000 on a walk-in refrigerator, due to arrive next week. The new refrigerator will allow the pantry, in partnership with Feed America Tampa Bay, a national food bank, to store perishables.
“So, they can call us and say they have a truckload of lettuce, cabbage or peppers, and we will have the refrigeration systems where we can store things,” said Gil Mosher, a longtime pantry volunteer.
Saint Anne’s Community Outreach Food Pantry has been helping put food on the table of local families for 16 years. The pantry started with a few volunteers serving a handful of families. Today, an average of 425 South County families use the pantry weekly — although it has been as high as 500 — with clients lining up every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon.
The difference with the new building is “night and day,” Mosher said. Space constraints at the garage meant volunteers were moving food constantly, trying to find storage space. “We would be handling food five or six times.”
With the new building, “We bring our deliveries through the door, we handle it once, and when it’s time for distribution, we bring the pallets forward, line up our tables and have volunteers place food on each table.”
While it’s not shopping, clients now get to select the food stuffs they prefer from each table rather than being handed a bag of groceries picked by a volunteer. “Towards the end of the tables we will have baked goods from places like Publix and Winn-Dixie; those stores support us tremendously,” Mosher said.
“The amount of things we will be able to do here will increase greatly,” said Paul Wiskitoni, who has managed the pantry since 2012. “Of course, we are still going to give out food, but now we will be able to prepackage things and deliver to people who are homebound. We also plan to do other ministries here that will be food-pantry oriented. It is just going to grow and grow.”
For more information about Saint Anne’s pantry or to donate or volunteer, call 813-645-1714 or visit www.saintanneruskin.org.