By KEVIN BRADY
Moving from their home in Ruskin. Cramped surrounding. Fighting a daily battle to provide food for the hungry.
No matter to Pastor William and Dora Cruz of The Lord’s Lighthouse Ministry. The two 80-somethings are still carrying out their mission for the needy. But while they have battled adversity before, now they need help more than ever.
Originally operating from a building owned by St. John the Divine Episcopal Church on College Avenue, the group moved in July when St. John’s had to sell the property. The Lord’s Lighthouse is now operating from three locations with friends helping store files as well as food.
When St. John’s told them they would likely have to move almost a year ago, supporters of the mission looked for months for a new home. Appeals to local churches for space drew a blank and local rents, some topping $3,000 a month, proved beyond the group’s reach.
“We knew we had to move to another place but income has been a problem,” Pastor Cruz said. “We have had supporters who have died and others have moved out of Florida.”
While the mission served hundreds of South County’s hungry and homeless every week during the group’s seven-year stay on the College Avenue property, many of those who used the services for everything from food to baby diapers, still don’t know the Lighthouse has moved to Wimauma.
“We are trying to get the word out to people by visiting the local migrant camps,” Dora Cruz said.
The Lighthouse’s primary headquarters are two tiny offices at Taxland, 5227 S.R. 674 in Wimauma. There the group provides advocacy assistance on issues like benefits, food stamps, social security and immigration. Immigration cases are referred to an expert who works with the center. The group also provides Access services, helping locals to apply for state and local benefit programs, many of which visitors are not even aware they qualify for.
The Taxland office is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 813-641-7100 or 813-373-2172 or email email@example.com to make an appointment. “Luckily Taxland graciously offered us the building which part of the year is empty.”
The Lighthouse also gives out food to the hungry on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. at Iglesias de Dios Elim, 5809 Hickman Street in Wimauma. A service is held at 11 a.m. but it is not necessary to attend the service to receive food. The ministry had been receiving grants from local charitable trusts but now having nowhere to store that food, those grants have run out, Pastor Cruz said.
“I had one little girl last week who asked for extra food so she could bring it home to her family,” said Dora Cruz. “It breaks your heart. Then just today someone called who was getting their electricity cut off and we were able to pay for that. Another person called who needed food and we loaded a car and brought it to them. We go where the need is.”
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 – William and Dora Cruz, the area’s first family of giving, retired in 2008. That didn’t last long.
They founded the Lighthouse the same year, serving around 50 families a week. The pantry would go on to provide 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 and they opened their doors for us,” said Dora who expressed her gratitude to the church for continued donations to the mission.
The Lighthouse is in need of food, donations and, ideally, a place to relocate the ministry which would fall within their budget. And they need some small chairs. “We hold a little lesson for children at the service on Sunday and the children have to sit on the floor. I had one little girl last week who was in her best Sunday dress and she didn’t want to sit on the floor lest her dress get dirty.”