“Volunteers to Our Lady’s Pantry come from throughout the County and from all walks of life,” says Tom Bullaro, co-director of the Pantry with his wife Anita.
“Many of our volunteers, in fact, are retired military, or from military families, and are now working members of AmeriCorps-Operation Veteran Connect (OVC). OVC is a program under the umbrella of Seniors in Service (SIS) out of Tampa. The special mission of this group, which includes volunteers over the age of 19, is to connect veterans, active militaries, and their families to community resources.”
“Through this connection, vets can increase their knowledge about benefits and have access to care,” says program manager Glarisol Traspalacios. “Further, they can engage veterans in assisting their fellow veterans through volunteer service.”
Retired Air Force veteran Leona Glenn, for example, once served in Turkey, Korea, Alaska, California, Virginia, and “all over the place,” she says.
An AmeriCorps-OVC member, Leona had always wanted to volunteer her services somewhere. When she retired from the Air Force after 20 years, she started looking around.
“I asked Glarisol where I should go to volunteer,” Leona remembers.
“Glarisol suggested Our Lady’s Pantry,” Leona says. “And here I am.”
So Leona found Our Lady’s Pantry and has been coming here a couple of days a week for more than two years, packing boxes of food on Saturdays for our neighbors in need.
“The little things we do are important to others,” she says, “and I really like it here.”
Then Leona chatted up Our Lady’s Pantry with her good friend Hortencia Francis, who started working here, as well, a few months later.
Hortencia, also an AmeriCorps-OVC member, retired from the Army after 20 years, having served in the Middle East, Belgium, and other countries around the world.
“I started working at the Pantry during COVID,” she says. “I’m going on my second year here.”
Hortencia works at the Pantry on Tuesdays and Fridays doing whatever needs to be done. Long before dawn on Saturday mornings, however, she is driving in from Brandon to work on the registration desk with Anita Bullaro, personally meeting the clients who come for food.
Hortencia finds this work especially “heartwarming,” she says. “People start coming here at 5:45 a.m. Many of them tell me that if it were not for us, they wouldn’t have anything to eat.
“’ I don’t have enough food,’ they say.
“’ Thank you.’
“And ‘God bless you for what you do.’”
AmeriCorps-OVC member Michelle King, who is from a military family, learned about Our Lady of Guadalupe Food Pantry from friends who work here.
“I’ve been here for more than a year, and I love it,” says Michelle. “It’s rewarding knowing I am helping the community and helping veterans.
“Giving back a part of who I am is what I enjoy.”
AmeriCorps-OVC members Yvette and Scott Harvey also have been working at the Pantry for more than a year.
Retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and also from a military family, Yvette is passionate about any opportunity to give back to veterans and others as well.
“Helping others warms my heart and makes me feel a sense of gratitude.
“I enjoy what I do at Our Lady of Guadalupe Food Pantry a few days a week, and being part of the food distribution on Saturday mornings,” she says. “So many veterans and their families are being blessed by the volunteers who serve at Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Scott joins his wife in working at Our Lady’s Pantry. Scott is a Gulf War veteran, who retired from the Army after seven years, having done tours in California, Virginia, Korea, as well as Saudi Arabia/Kuwait during the War. Scott and his wife learned about the Pantry through Operation Veterans Connect. Scott enjoys working here, he says, not only because the Pantry’s mission is such a good cause, but also because he likes working with other good people.
In addition to his working at the Pantry, OVC manager Glarisol Traspalacios asked Scott if he would be willing to assist with an additional effort to help veterans beyond working on-site in Wimauma. He said, “yes.”
Now, instead of heading home to Riverview after leaving Wimauma on Saturdays, he takes a circuitous route through inner-city Tampa. Here, he delivers bags of groceries and beverages to 10 men and women veterans living there.
“This program is continuing to grow,” Scott says.
"We are now helping our vets with housing, furniture, and personal items — as well as providing food.”
Director Tom Bullaro thanks Leona, Hortencia, Michelle, Yvette, and Scott for their dedication to serving others. “Having the help of all of our AmeriCorp-OVC members at the Pantry every week has made a big difference in helping us do everything that we must do to get the job done.”
To learn more about Operation Veteran Connect, please visit: https://seniorsinservice.org/operation-veteran-connect/
To learn more about Our Lady’s Pantry, please visit: https://www.ourladyspantry.com
New volunteers are always welcome at the Pantry. Please come any Tuesday, Friday, or Saturday morning if you wish to lend a hand. And thank you.