Community Cupboard feeding thousands

Published on: February 18, 2021

A steady line of cars forms early every Tuesday morning as residents in need of food await the opening of Community Cupboard, a ministry of Calvary Lutheran Church in Ruskin. Service hours are generally 8:30 to 11 a.m., but volunteers try to open as soon as they are ready. On average, the pantry feeds just under 500 families and 30 homeless individuals per week.

Community Cupboard: one of Feeding Tampa Bay’s largest partnering agencies in the County


Every Tuesday morning, cars line up nonstop along an estimated 130 feet of driveway leading to Calvary Lutheran Church’s Community Cupboard from about 7 to 11 a.m. These days there are lots of hungry people in South Shore.

“On average, we feed just under 500 families and 30 homeless (folks) per week,” said cupboard administrator Jim Wise. “That’s between 1,750 and 2,000 family members. We’ve [been] here 52 weeks of the year. Even during COVID, we never closed.”

D’marie Recicar, a retiree from Miami who now lives in Apollo Beach, checks out a frozen meat item before adding it and a canned meat into a food bag.

On Feb. 9, the pantry’s 30 volunteers packed and distributed close to 16,000 pounds of food, primarily supplied by Feeding Tampa Bay.

“As one of (our) largest partner agencies in Hillsborough County, the Community Cupboard is an adaptive and collaborative agency, meeting the needs of its neighbors through weekly distributions with dignity and respect,” said Feeding Tampa Bay spokeswoman Shannon Hannon-Oliverio. “It’s one of 450 (agencies) of varying sizes we work with throughout our 10-county distribution area.”

Considering the volume of people being served each week, Community Cupboard’s completely drive-through operation is CDC compliant and amazingly efficient. Each driver stops in front of a tent, where a volunteer behind a table hollers out to ask how many people are to be fed and what community they live in. The car then proceeds around to the loading area and gets bags of food and fresh produce loaded into its trunk, based on the information provided.

At the last stop, a couple of volunteers give out beverages, crackers, sauces and other miscellaneous items. The homeless receive things like socks, coats or blankets to add to their food bags, which are filled to meet their specific needs.

The food items folks receive on any given week can include canned veggies, beans, rice, cereal and other staples, plus things like Ramen noodles, bread and baked goods (donated by Publix), fresh produce and a frozen and canned meat item. The variety is based on what was available from Feeding Tampa Bay.

Occasionally, a large family gets ice cream or a cake.

A small start

The Calvary Lutheran Church Community Cupboard had very modest beginnings.

In response to folks walking in to request food or help, the pantry began in 1980 in a small barrel placed in the narthex of the old church building on U.S. 41 and then into a couple of cabinets in Fellowship Hall, said Paula Sabo, Calvary’s business manager. In 1993, when Calvary added a new sanctuary, offices and classrooms, the cupboard was located in a closet. It stayed there until January 2005 when the church moved it into a trailer on its new property where Angel Attic opened on College Avenue. Three years later, it was relocated into the building it’s now in, sharing workroom space with the thrift store. Finally, in 2014, when Angel Attic opened its new store, Community Cupboard took over the shared space.

“We were feeding 250 families back then, and the need has grown ever since,” said Sabo, noting Angel Attic sales plus donations from both the congregation and community fund the cupboard. “Now we serve hundreds more, and last Thanksgiving we fed more than 800 families.”

If you’d like to help, checks made payable to the Community Cupboard may be mailed to Calvary Lutheran Church, 1250 E. College Ave., Ruskin, or dropped off at the church office, cupboard or Angel Attic (all on the same site) during their individual hours of operation.

For more information, call 813-641-7790 or 813-645-1305.

Donations can also be made directly to Feeding America Tampa Bay by visiting and clicking on the Donate tab.

D’marie Recicar, a retiree from Miami who now lives in Apollo Beach, checks out a frozen meat item before adding it and a canned meat into a food bag.

Laurie Gallo, a volunteer and Calvary Lutheran Church member, fills a bag with fresh produce to go with the bag of staples the car in line will receive. Volunteers from the community also help out at the weekly distribution event.

Volunteers Phyllis Johnson, foreground left, Barb Tweet and Cindy Jones, all Calvary Lutheran Church members, fill bags with food items for area families in need during Community Cupboard’s Tuesday distribution. The food comes primarily from Feeding Tampa Bay. Breads and baked goods are donated by local Publix stores.

Following CDC guidelines, Community Cupboard volunteer Rick Lameyer, left, motions to the next vehicle in line at Community Cupboard, while another volunteer places free food into the trunk of a car.

The weekly food distribution at Community Cupboard is amazingly efficient, given the number of people volunteers process food for and place in their vehicles within less than three hours at 1480 E. College Ave., Ruskin.