On the road again

Residents of central Florida are likely familiar with Our Lady’s Pantry white truck zipping along almost every day of the week, picking up food from all over the County.  But the real power behind these trips is not the gasoline fueling the engine (costing a stunning $9,597 this past year, in fact) but the women and men who drive our trucks.

white truck with blue letters. Our Lady's Pantry

“Introducing Becky Bell, Lisa Medina, Mike Buffone, Mike Jasudowicz, Doug Lazarus, David Mariconda, Tom Rossetter, and Lyle Smith,” says director Tom Bullaro.

“They come from Iowa, Michigan, Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey, and other states throughout the Country — just to make a difference,” says Bullaro.

“Our Lady’s Pantry could not exist without their efforts.”

Like Mariconda, these volunteers believe their driving “is a good way to give back to the community.”

woman climbing into truck

Lisa

“No one in this country should ever go hungry,” says Lazarus.

But Bell’s reason is more personal.  “When my family came here from Cuba, the Catholic Church gave us food,” she says.  So Bell is passing it forward.

Jasudowicz says he was looking for something to do about 12 years ago and ran into Ray Lennon, who drove the Pantry’s single truck back then.

Woman and man in front of Our Lady's Pantry truck

Becky and Mike Jasudowicz

“Ray told me to come on down to the Pantry,” he says.  “They always need help.

“I’ve been at here ever since,” he says.  “I started driving about 7 years ago.”

Medina found her way to the Pantry a couple of years ago.  “There was a story in ‘The Observer’ that said Our Lady’s Pantry was looking for strong men to help lift the heavy boxes of food.

Driver standing by Our Lady's Pantry truck

Mike Buffone

“But I thought, I can lift heavy boxes, too!” she says.  “And so, I volunteered.”  Before she knew it, she was driving a truck, as well.  The Pantry had two trucks then.

“Anyone can drive these trucks,” Jasudowicz adds.  “These new trucks are like driving a car.  They have automatic power steering and brakes.  The “Beast “(the oldest truck), is a little more stubborn, but it has power steering and power brakes too.”

The drivers agree that traffic is the major stressor about driving for the Pantry.  But they find the vendors great.

Gentleman in white shirt standing in front of Pantry truck.

Dave

“I can’t imagine what it would be like without their generosity,” Jasudowicz says.  “Everywhere we go, people are generous.  We recently picked up food from a school up the road that did a food drive for us.  The people we connect with at our stops are all very supportive of what we are doing.  As we thank them for their donations, many of them thank us also for what the pantry does week in and week out.”

Bullaro works with Kim Kordalski and the drivers to coordinate the pickup itinerary week after week.  Kordalski says that the drivers going to Feeding Tampa Bay are on the road by 6 a.m.  The others start soon afterwards.

“In fact, we have a total of nine donation providers, so drivers will typically pick up anywhere from one to four of them on each run.  They drop the food off at the Pantry to be sorted and stored until Saturday.  Then they head back out, again and again, until we have completed all the scheduled pickups for that day. Each day is a different schedule of pickups, ranging from three to seven on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.

“Feeding Tampa Bay, Costco, and Sams’ give us a special time to pick up.  We work around these schedules to pick up at our other markets.

Driver in green shirt

Tom

“When we get fresh produce from someone early in the week that won’t last until Saturday, one of our drivers will take the produce to another pantry that distributes early in the week.  We all work together to get food to those who need it.

“It is a long day for our drivers, and we often have curve balls.  But no one worries,” she says.  “No one complains.  Everyone is happy.  This is such an amazing group.  I just marvel at it.

“We’ve got this!”

“But times have changed,” says Bullaro.  “Ray drove for us for many years.  But not very long ago, he drove our single truck to Feeding Tampa Bay twice a week to get most of our food.  Since COVID, followed by this inflation that has affected so many households, Feeding Tampa Bay is sharing food with hundreds more pantries, so there is little left for us.

Two men wearing blur shirts standing in front of Our Lady's Pantry truck

Lyle and Doug

“We now have three trucks going in different directions many days of every week.

“Regrettably, some of our drivers are snowbirds and will be leaving us soon, so having a few backup drivers would be great.  No commercial truck driver’s license is necessary.  If you might be interested and want more information, please let me know.   You can call me at: (813) 741-2000.  Leave a message and I will call you back.”

Once upon a time, our drivers served their former communities as police officers, and as coaches in college and youth baseball.  They labored in healthcare, in factories, and in church maintenance.  They worked in retail, in Corporate America, and in AmeriCorps.  They carried our mail . . ..  Now they help our Pantry thrive.

“Come on down and join us,” says Jasudowicz.  “It’s more fun than a job — and very fulfilling.

“I’ve made lots of new friends since I’ve been here.”