By LINDA CHION KENNEY
With thousands of homes sprouting up to the north, south, east and west, the Rev. Bill Cruz is holding on to his slice of 10.7 acres in the heart of Balm, which he aims to showcase at a fall festival in October, on tap to become an annual event.
Joining him in the effort is his wife, Theresa, and Ruth Foss, who is set to launch her Artisan Boutique on Oct. 8, in step with the first-ever Balm Fall Fest, near the intersection of Balm Riverview and Balm Boyette roads. Both the one-room, small farm boutique and the Good Samaritan Mission are at 14920 Balm Wimauma Road.
“When I decided on the date for the grand opening, I wanted to do more than food trucks and vendors,” Foss said. “I wanted to incorporate an event. Knowing how Good Samaritan wants to involve the community in events, I decided it would be best to present an inaugural Balm Fall Fest.”
For Bill Cruz, it’s a chance to show off what he calls “the Balm Life,” on his 10.7-acre “oasis” in the fast-growing community, where emerging subdivisions continue to define the suburban sprawl deeper into south Hillsborough County.
“People who have come in to our property get a real sense of the nature and the beauty of Balm,” said Cruz, the Good Samaritan Mission’s volunteer executive director. “And we’re going to keep it that way, the green part of Balm, on these 10.7 acres.”
The land has been in the Cruz family since 1984, “when my parents started their mission the same year my wife and I got married,” Bill Cruz said. “We went from full ministry to the migrant population to anyone who comes through the door and now to the thousands of families who are going to be surrounding us. We want to stay fresh and minister to whomever God puts within our reach, regardless of their socioeconomic status.”
Toward that end, plans involve two phases, starting with a renewed sense of purpose for the multi-room building that includes newly renovated rooms for leasing.
“We’re renting out some extra rooms for people who want to incubate or grow their businesses,” Cruz said, in discussing the mission’s phase one effort to raise funds. “We want to have an emphasis on the arts as well, where people can come in and take art, drama or music classes. We want to address the needs of whoever is surrounding us. We want to serve and build a strong community with a lot of resources.”
It’s not new territory for the Good Samaritan Mission, which before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic had been distributing food to people who earned tokens by taking classes in life skills. Phase two involves bringing those classes back.
“People would take a half-hour class in how to manage money better, make a budget, eat healthier or what have you, and earn tokens they could use to fill a T-shirt bag with donated food or toys for the holidays,” Cruz said.
En route to that higher purpose, the Oct. 8 Balm Fall Fest is set to include kid-friendly carnival games and food trucks. Admission is free and there is a nominal cost for armbands tied to specific offerings, such as hayrides, the bounce house slide and small pumpkin painting. The cost is $3 per person and $10 for a family of four or more. Vendor fees are $20 for nonprofits, $50 for businesses and $100 for food trucks. The festival is scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, hours for the Artisan Boutique following its grand opening are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Vendors will be at the Balm Fall Fest with tents outside the boutique to showcase their wares. Foss said to expect a wide range of offerings, including fruit butters, hot sauces, bath and body products, bath balms, tumbler and soap selections, jewelry, handmade cards, fresh-squeezed lemonade clothing, candles, home décor and more.
Foss said she runs as well the market at the Waterset community in Apollo Beach, held the last Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost for profit vendors is $40. For nonprofits there is no cost.
To confirm prices and other details and for more on the Artisan Boutique and Foss’s markets, email email@example.com/. Contact Cruz at the Good Samaritan Mission at 813-634-7136. Visit www.gsmission.org/. Email firstname.lastname@example.org/.