It's funny how things happen. Anita Bullaro, co-director of Our Lady's Pantry with her husband Tom, would be the first to agree.
When the couple retired to Florida from Pennsylvania in 2004, Tom joined the Knights of Columbus at Prince of Peace Catholic Church. The Knights had adopted the running of Our Lady's Pantry at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Migrant Mission a few years before, so Tom started working at the Pantry each week. He persuaded Anita to join him. She started coming once a month. Soon it was twice a month. Then it was once a week, as the Pantry has a way of growing on folks.
“Then in 2008, the existing director Larry Flynn had to resign for health reasons — so I offered to take over,” says Tom.
But things sometimes travel in circles and the day came in 2011, when Tom required shoulder surgery. Now he needed someone to take his place.
“So I took over temporarily,” says Anita.
But serving as director was different from simply stocking shelves once a week, Anita found, much to her surprise. The more she got immersed in every aspect of the Pantry, the more she found she loved the work.
“I was having a great time meeting people and helping families,” she recalls.
Fast forward a month or so. Tom's shoulder healed sufficiently so he could resume his work as director and Anita could go back to sorting food and stocking shelves once a week.
“But she wouldn't leave,” says Tom, laughing.
“From that point on we have worked together as co-directors. I order food, write grants, and take turns driving to Tampa with our team of helpers to get food at Feeding America. Anita takes charge of the books and works at the Pantry with the rest of our volunteers. Together they sort the food, fill boxes for families, and distribute them every Saturday throughout the year.”
Tom and Anita are one of a number of couples who work at Our Lady's Pantry — each with their own story of how they came to be there. Often the stories parallel that of Anita and Tom, with one spouse volunteering, loving the work, then coaxing the other to join them.
According to Anita, sharing this passion for Our Lady's Pantry has brought her and Tom closer together than ever.
“The Pantry has become a strong bond for us, because we enjoy giving back,” says Anita. “It's wonderful seeing how happy and thankful our families are. They tell us all the time about the lives we are saving by giving them food. We get so many smiles — and even hugs from the children. It's just amazing.”
Tom agrees, noting that the number of families coming for food now have more than quadrupled since he first started working here in 2004. Our Lady's Pantry provided food for perhaps 50 families a week at that time. This fall, more than 200 families were coming for food many weeks.
“Without Anita's help, I couldn't do this work,” he says. “Besides being my wife, Anita is my best friend.”
Our Lady's Pantry is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization affiliated with Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Migrant Mission. If you know of folks in need of food, kindly ask them to stop by some Saturday morning between 7:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Everyone is welcome. The Pantry serves persons in Balm, Wimauma, and Sun City Center. To learn more about Our Lady's Pantry, please visit us at: http://www.ourladyspantry.com