It is only 5:40 a.m., but already there are 50 cars in line, and things are hopping outside the classroom building!
It is here at the far end of the building, where food will be given out, starting at 7:30 a.m., that a handful of volunteers have already set up tables, soon be piled high with fresh nutritious food.
At the other end of the building, Anita Bullaro is setting up her registration table. Anita, who is co-director of the Pantry, along with her husband Tom, has been working registration for almost 19 years and has come to know and love many of the regulars who come for food.
According to Anita, people come to the Pantry for so many reasons. Some folks are coping with unspeakable tragedy of one kind or another. Some have permanent disabilities, or are ill, and cannot work. A few have lost their homes and are struggling to survive.
Families are getting larger, too, she says. Grandparents are taking in children and grandchildren. Children are taking in parents. Either way, there are more people around the dinner table as families grow larger. Migrant workers don’t earn a living wage for all their hard work, so they may come as well.
Others have lost jobs and just need a helping hand temporarily until they find work again. Medical emergencies, increasing rent, utility bills, and other obligations can destroy a family’s budget in no time at all, until there is little left for food.
“For whatever reason they come, people need to eat every day,” says Anita. “So we greet them with a smile and make them feel welcome.”
Considerable reporting is required in managing a food pantry, Anita points out. The Pantry is under the umbrella of Feeding Tampa Bay and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Both require us to count those who come for food, how many people are in each family, and the town in which they reside,” she says. “For this reason, we ask people to register, which they do with the help of our Pantry volunteers.
“Before the pandemic, we had folks come inside the Pantry to register at our desk, but COVID changed everything,” Anita says. “To keep our families safe now, we ask them to stay in their cars. We go to them instead.”
What this means, however, is that Anita needs a team of helpers to go out to the cars to register new clients and get registration information from those who come regularly.
“I don’t know what I would do without all my helpers,” says Anita. “They truly are my angels.
“Our food lines start forming long before dawn for much of the year, whether it is freezing cold, as it had been for several weeks this past winter — or raging hot by mid-morning, as it is right now,” she says. “My team is on their feet from 6 a.m. until 10:30 a.m., walking back and forth from one car to another. I expect they walk miles each Saturday morning.”
Most Saturdays, Anita’s team includes Alice, Geri, Giovanni, Hortencia, Jeanne, Jim, John, Kelly, Roberta, and Rosa, who help with one registration task or another.
Included among the Pantry's registration team are: -- from left to right -- Alice, Rosa, Roberta, Anita, Hortencia, Kelly, and John.
“Our line of cars starts forming shortly after 5 a.m. and it’s a long line before the Pantry opens,” says Roberta, “but I never heard anyone complain about their wait.
“Instead, they are so grateful for the Pantry,” she says.
“‘We are so happy you are here,’ they tell me. And, as they get to know us, they become very friendly, so I love it.”
Hortencia finds this work “heartwarming. Many people tell me that they wouldn’t have anything to eat, if it wasn’t for us. ‘God bless you for what you do,’ they say.”
“It’s such a good feeling to work at the Pantry,” says Roberta. “Everybody loves working here, helping our fellow man, and making the community better.”
And Geri echoes the positive comments reported to Roberta and Hortencia.
“One woman recently told me, ‘Saturday is my favorite day of the week!’”
To read other testimonials about Our Lady’s Pantry, please visit: https://www.ourladyspantry.com/testimonials/