Passing it forward — just to give thanks!

According to Feeding Tampa Bay, nearly 1 million people are struggling with food insecurity throughout Tampa Bay.  An estimated one in four children is impacted.

These numbers are no surprise to Tom Bullaro, who serves as director of Our Lady’s Pantry in Wimauma.

“Our Pantry distributes food to alternate clients every other Saturday,” he says.  “This means, we have been averaging between 500-600 persons coming for food every two weeks!  What is of concern is that people start lining up in the middle of the night for food, which suggests that they may be hungry.

Bullaro says that the Pantry distributes a stunning 900 tons of food in a year, which converts to an average of 34,000 pounds of food to unpack from the Pantry’s three trucks during the week. All that food must be sorted, repackaged into family-size portions, stored safely until Saturday, then carried out to put in our families’ cars on Saturday morning.

Five women and one man sorting fresh produce

Pantry volunteers happily sorting vegetables one Friday morning.

“It takes many helpers to do all this work,” says Bullaro.  “But we don’t have consistent help.

“We are desperate for more volunteers!” he says.

“We ask those who receive food from the Pantry to consider giving back.  Please pass it forward by helping us out for a couple of hours during the week, or on the Saturdays that you don’t receive food.  If even a small percentage of the hundreds of our clients were to become regular volunteers, you would make all the difference.”

Many of the Pantry’s regular volunteers are registered to receive food, Bullaro says, and have done so for years.  One such recipient has been volunteering for more than a decade, when, after a family tragedy, her grandchildren unexpectedly moved in to stay.

“I would go to the cupboard sometimes to prepare dinner for everyone and there wouldn’t be anything there,” she remembers.  “My husband was working, but our income was slightly over the Government allowance for food stamps and other Government support, so we didn’t qualify for any assistance.

“I learned about Our Lady’s Pantry, though, and it has been a wonderful resource,” she says.

“Our Lady’s Pantry has helped me to feed my family.

“I work here just to give thanks.”

“We need you,” Bullaro repeats. “We especially need strong men to help carry these boxes.

“We work on Tuesday and Friday mornings unpacking our trucks when they come in with food — and Saturday morning, putting food in our families’ cars.”

Every week is different, Bullaro notes, as some people come and go.  On rare occasions, we may have lots of help, so some folks just go home early.  But please come again if you see we have plenty help the first day you come.

“And thanks!"

To learn more about Our Lady’s Pantry, please visit us at:  https://www.ourladyspantry.com