Giving Neighbors: Our Lady of Guadalupe Food Pantry
Wimauma – It’s the season to be thankful. Thankful for the blessings in our lives and thankful for the abundance we have.
I had the opportunity to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe Food Pantry, a volunteer driven non-profit, last Saturday in Wimauma. I was reminded just how blessed most of us are and what this Thanksgiving holiday really means.
The visit was both sad and heartening. To see we have so many neighbors in such need was heart-breaking, and somewhat shocking, but to see so many incredible volunteers there to help gave me hope that our world will be okay.
From 25 Families to Over 200 Families Per Week
First, for some perspective: Our Lady’s Pantry is one of FIVE food pantries in our immediate South Shore area. They coordinate their efforts to distribute food and supplies on different days of the week.
Tom and Anita Bullaro are the current co-directors of Our Lady of Guadalupe Food Pantry, aka Our Lady’s Pantry, a non-profit organization which started in 1999. Barbara Murphy acts as director when Tom and Anita are away.
In the beginning, Our Lady’s Pantry served about 25 families per week, handing out ‘banana boxes’ filled with food. Today, Our Lady’s Pantry serves well over 200 families per week, with over 1300 families officially registered in the program.
“About 25% of our families and individuals come from Sun City Center, while the remaining comes from Wimauma and Balm areas,” Tom says. “We serve a lot of seniors and a lot of Hispanic families, many of whom are migrant workers.”
Where Does the Food Come From?
Our Lady’s Pantry relies on many sources to fill their shelves with food each week. The majority of food comes from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Feeding Tampa Bay, which administers the TEFAP program. Feeding Tampa Bay serves over 100 food pantries in the Tampa Bay area alone.
Food pantries access the Feeding Tampa Bay website to ‘order food’. They pay .18¢ per pound of food. Our Lady’s Pantry also works with local grocery stores to acquire items that are past their ‘sell by’ date, but not past their “use by” date.
Local donations of money and food also help stock the shelves and provide the necessary equipment – from shelves to freezers to trucks – to run the operation.
“The local community has really been incredible,” Tom says. “It’s not uncommon for people to show up on Saturday mornings with boxes of food to donate. Someone just donated a $20,000 cooler trailer, which means we can offer more fresh produce and breads in our weekly boxes.”
Register – No Questions Asked
As part of the TEFAP program families and individuals are required to ‘register’ to qualify for food pick up. Families indicate family size and household income and any other assistance programs they belong to. Families must re-register every six months.
Once registered each family receives a color-coded card which they bring with them at each pick up. Families can pick up food every other week at Our Lady’s Pantry and they must bring their empty ‘box’ back with them.
Ordering, receiving, unpacking, organizing, shelving, boxing and distributing food to hundreds of families each week is no easy task or small operation.
Every Saturday, from 7:30 – 11:30, you’ll find about 40 volunteers directing traffic, registering families, stocking shelves, filling boxes, loading boxes into cars and shutting the operation down at the end of the morning.
Volunteers, and many of the families who rely on Our Lady’s Pantry, arrive at 5:30AM to help set up.
Many more volunteers work throughout the week ordering food, picking food up, delivering it, re-packaging it in individual portions, storing it on shelves and in freezers, and completing the administrative tasks required to run the operation.
Food is picked up from Feeding Tampa Bay and local grocery stores on Tuesdays and Fridays. Typically 6 pallets of food, weighing 5000lbs each, are picked up each day.
Our Lady’s Pantry was able to secure a larger truck, through community donations, to handle this massive task. One can only imagine the effort required to deliver, sort and organize this amount of food – twice a week.
Many of Our Lady’s Pantry volunteers have been there since the beginning in 1999, including Catherine Ames, who is 94 years young.
The Need Is Huge
I arrived on Saturday at 10:00AM to find a long line of cars waiting their turn to pick up food. By that time over 200 families had already come to pick up food and Our Lady’s Pantry is open to 11:30. There was still an hour and half left to go.
Volunteer and Donate
If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Anita Bullaro.
Food donations are accepted on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8:00 – 10:00. For monetary donations please contact Tom Bullaro.
Tom and Anita Bullaro
*All donations are tax deductible.
South Shore Food Pantries
- Bethel Mission Outreach (Wimauma) 813-633-1548
- Good Samaritan Mission (Wimauma) 813-634-7136
- Anne’s Catholic Church (Ruskin) 813-645-1714
- The Lord’s Lighthouse (Ruskin) 813-641-7100
- Calvary Lutheran Mission Community Cupboard (Ruskin) 813-641-7790
- World Harvest Worship Center (Riverview) 813-856-9492
A Time to Be Thankful
Knowing we have so many neighbors in need is tough to swallow and I don’t think the problem will ever be ‘fixed’, but I am humbled to see so many of our neighbors there to help. We’re lucky to live in such a giving community.
Are you involved in a local South Shore non-profit? Please tell us about it. Comment below.