LINDA CHION KENNEY Photos
On site at the Barn Theatre at Winthrop in Riverview, for the May 19 breakfast to thank supporters, from left in front, Brian Goodhead, board member; Myriam Lugo, Brandon center director; Dustin Cooper, volunteer; and Lexi Harvey, administrative assistant. On the truck are Steve McKinnon, ECHO Riverview center director, and Annemarie Macaluso, manager of ECHO’s thrift store in Brandon.
ECHO highlights the need and showcases the effort at Winthrop appreciation breakfast
By LINDA CHION KENNEY
In appreciation for services rendered to a growing population of neighbors in need, Eleanor Saunders took to the stage at the Barn Theatre at Winthrop in Riverview to welcome Emergency Care Help Organization volunteers, supporters, board members and staff.
“We felt the need to thank our supporters,” said Saunders, ECHO’s long-time executive director, at the May 19 appreciation luncheon. “We didn’t feel we could let it go much longer without saying thank you in a public way.”
It was the first major gathering of ECHO and its supporters since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold 14 months ago, forcing a lockdown to slowdown that deepened the need of neighbors “bridging the gap between crisis and stability.”
Indeed, “bridging the gap” is the driving mission of ECHO, founded in 1987 in partnership with the Brandon Ministerial Association and the business community. Its original mission was to provide emergency food and clothing to people who found themselves in emergency situations.
Five years later, businessman Julian Craft worked to secure ECHO’s current location in Brandon, at 507 North Parsons Ave., and with his family stepped up to support ECHO in both the early and subsequent years. Many others in the community stepped up as well to secure ECHO as a beloved charity, including long-time board member Vince Ferraro, who died Sept. 10, 2020 at age 75.
Craft died June 28, 2017 at age 84.
“I believe Julian and Vince would be so pleased to see ECHO where it is today,” Saunders said, in an interview at the May19 breakfast. “They would be so proud that we’ve expanded as we have and that we’re addressing even deeper issues.”
Testament to that were life-sized posters attached to lampposts outside the Barn Theatre for the May 19 appreciation luncheon. In addition to meals served and clothing provided, ECHO in 2012 added life-stabilizing programs and resources to its offerings of food and clothing, including GED training in English and Spanish, one-on-one job coaching and workshops in budgeting, couponing and more.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, ECHO served 29,751 individuals and 296,138 meals, which represented 107 percent and 79 percent increases, respectively, over the prior fiscal year. Stabilizing programs numbered 916, representing a 147 increase.
Attesting to the growing need, ECHO opened a Riverview location in October 2018 to better serve the needs of south Hillsborough County residents, including neighbors living in Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, Riverview, Ruskin and Sun City Center. A second building at the same location opened recently to provide client services to neighbors, including job-search and financial literacy assistance and linking neighbors to assistance through online channels, including for unemployment insurance, certification training and food stamp assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Dianne Horncastle, who said she comes to the job with a 30-year background in leadership development, is newly hired to help neighbors through the offerings of the Opportunity Center at both the Brandon and Riverview locations.
“I love ECHO’s mission and what they were doing every day,” said Horncastle, who started as a volunteer at ECHO and today works with John Rodill, the opportunity center specialist who works mainly at the Riverview Opportunity Center.
“I love helping people,” Horncastle said. “We don’t just help people with a resume and send them out the door. We connect them with a business. I’ll call a business [on their behalf and] try to set up an interview.”
Horncastle said the biggest need is to help people navigate today’s job search market, which for the most part is conducted online. It’s not like the old days, when a job seeker would knock on doors or write a cover letter to mail with a resume to secure an interview in person or via the phone.
“Today, one in 1,700 people who post their resumes online will get an interview, which is why it feels like [your application] is going into a black hole, because it is,” Horncastle said.
ECHO assistance includes coaching and connections to online and in–person classes, workshops and certification programs, and also helping with viable leads to employers seeking workers and computer and Internet access for people who otherwise don’t have the tools to apply for employment. Counseling includes helping job applicants “focus in on what makes them great so they can feel comfortable and confident during their interview,” Horncastle said.
The Opportunity Center is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and for appointments after hours, on site or off.
Meanwhile, the newly expanded ECHO Thrift storefront, at 424 West Brandon Blvd., is open to the public 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Proceeds help support the ECHO mission.
Neighbors seeking food and clothes from ECHO Brandon and ECHO South County must provide identification, their Social Security card and something that shows evidence that they live within the ZIP codes served.
For more information on ECHO, visit www.echofl.org or call 813-540-9880. For opportunity services, visit: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 813-685-0935.