By LOIS KINDLE
One of the largest charitable efforts in southern Hillsborough County is set to take place Feb. 18 in Sun City Center. Three hundred volunteers are needed to package 75,000 meals that will provide sustenance for neighbors in need during the coming year.
Called Meals of Hope, the annual event is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Sun City Center, which is coordinating the huge volunteer effort for the tenth time. The effort supplies bags of macaroni to five area food pantries: Beth-El Mission, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Mission and the Lord’s Lighthouse in Wimauma, and St. Anne Catholic Church and Calvary Lutheran’s Community Cupboard in Ruskin. Each bag feeds four to six people.
“This time of year, the pantries are all running low, so Meals of Hope helps replenish them,” said Tony Badalamenti, event chairman. “Last year we packaged 75,585 meals, and we hope to do the same this year.”
Area missions are grateful for the support.
“We so appreciate being able to supply these meals to local families in need,” said Paula Sabo, Calvary Lutheran Church’s business manager who oversees the Angel Attic thrift store and Community Cupboard food pantry. “They help supplement our distribution of food to approximately 450 families per week.”
Meals of Hope is funded through annual donations of $7,500 from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, $5,000 from the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, and at least $2,500 from the Sun City Center Rotary Club Foundation and area residents. The Rotary picks up any uncovered costs.
“Our South Shore donors have always had a great interest in being sure that everyone who lives in the area has enough to eat,” said Marlene Spalten, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay CEO. “The Meals of Hope program is one of several we have been honored to support.”
The hundreds of volunteers who help weigh, bag, seal and box the food products at stations work anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours, “whatever they’re comfortable with” and have time to offer, Badalamenti said. Many represent civic organizations like the Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions and Shriners clubs and area houses of worship and youth groups, including the Boy Scouts. Everyone works hand to hand, side by side.
Once the effort is over, boxes filled with the packaged food bags are delivered to the 4,000-square-foot food pantry at St. Anne Catholic Church, which is considered “command central.” From there, each of the other four food pantries send representatives to help fill their needs each week, Badalamenti said.
Since 2007, Meals of Hope volunteers have helped supply almost 513,000 meals to the hungry in South Shore.
“There is a tremendous need for this kind of service in southern Hillsborough County,” Badalamenti said. “Many of our area residents often go hungry.
“Our volunteers are people who have a desire to help,” he continued. “This is a wonderful opportunity for them to do that.”
Meals of Hope will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Veterans Theater, 1900 Clubhouse Drive, Kings Point. To participate, all you need to do is show up, Badalamenti said.
If you live outside of Kings Point, simply drive through the community’s Visitors Gate and tell the guard you are there to work the Meals of Hope event. Veterans Theater is in the Kings Point North Clubhouse, immediately inside on the right.
For additional information, call Badalamenti at 813-642-8715.
IF YOU GO:
What: Meals of Hope
When: Feb. 18, 11:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Veterans Theater, 1900 Clubhouse Drive, Kings Point
Information: Tony Badalamenti, 813-642-8715