By YVETTE C. HAMMETT
As the Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO) in Brandon began to bulge at the seams, lacking enough parking and space for clients, Executive Director Eleanor Saunders took a peek at the client data.
She discovered that 25 percent of ECHO clients come from southern Hillsborough County.
It took some work but with help from Hillsborough County, which found space for a south county ECHO branch and a grant from Bank of America for startup costs and a center director, a new center is about to open.
Emergency Care Help Organization plans to break ground in September on its new Riverview location at the Riverview Neighborhood Park at Riverview Drive and Capitano Street, behind Riverview Elementary.
And they’ll need 50 volunteers a week.
“We hope to have a soft opening in September and grand opening in October,” Saunders said. “It is a former county park building.”
The ECHO satellite center will offer emergency food and clothes. “Once we get up and going, about 18 months, we will introduce our back-to-work program, as well,” she said.
The new center will have a much smaller footprint than the Brandon site. “We are not going to take in mass donations. We just won’t have the space. We are asking that the majority of all donations be dropped off at north Brandon. We just don’t have room for massive amounts of sorting.
“We are at capacity at our north Brandon site and have been for years,” Saunders noted. “There is nowhere to park. Between the volunteers, the emergency food donations, etc., we needed to take the pressure off this location in some way.
“When I pulled our data, 25 percent of all families served are in Gibsonton, Riverview, or Progress Village. If a quarter of the people are coming from south county we knew we could reach more, so we needed to start looking for sites.”
The new center director will be Steve McKinnon, who has been an ECHO volunteer for more than a year. He was the Chief Operating Officer for The Flyer until it was purchased, and he decided to take early retirement.
“He really wanted to do something with a purpose,” Saunders said. “We are so happy to have him as our new center director.”
While the Brandon site has about 110 volunteers working each week to sort clothes and food items and other donations, the south county ECHO site will need about 50 volunteers, Saunders said. “We will start doing orientation at the north Brandon site soon.”
Last year, ECHO of Brandon, whose mission is to end hunger in southeastern Hillsborough County, help those who have lost everything to a fire or other tragedy and help those who need it find employment, took the $25,000 grand prize in Social Venture Partners’ first Shark Tank-styled competition for social entrepreneurship in the Tampa Bay Area.
As a way to supplement its income, ECHO has started a Handmade program, using local artisans to turn old clothes and used housewares into new handbags and jewelry. Shop at www.echofl.org/about-echo-handmade/.
To learn more about ECHO, to get help or to sign up as a volunteer, visit www.echofl.org/.