People come to the Pantry for so many reasons, says Tom Bullaro, who serves as co-director of the Pantry with his wife Anita. Given that the couple have been working here since 2004, when they moved from Pennsylvania, they have come to know many of the clients who come for food.
“Folks come because of all kinds of hardship,” Bullaro says. “Some have lost their jobs, or their health, or even their homes. And families are moving in together to survive.
“But many, like Diane, 78, are simply retired and struggling to live on a small pension that was never large enough to begin with. Medical emergencies, increasing rent, utility bills, and other obligations can destroy a budget in no time until there is little left for food.”
Diane says that she and her husband moved to Wimauma in 2000, soon after he retired from his teaching position in Ohio. He had paid into the teacher’s retirement program there, which has provided a small retirement check each month. Regrettably, in many states, including Ohio, teachers’ retirement checks don’t get cost-of-living raises, keeping up with inflation. Nor were teachers permitted to pay into Social Security at that time. For that reason, when he and Diane moved to Florida, he worked for six years, so he could qualify for at least a small Social Security check.
“My husband gets $200 a month from Social Security,” Diane says. “I get half of his check, so $100.”
In the summers, when her husband was not teaching, they spent their time doing missionary work on the streets of Toronto, she says. The prices of everything were so high in the big cities of Canada, like in Toronto, so many people were homeless.
“But I would go walking with my "I ❤️ Jesus" hat and shirt and try to help people.”
Soon after Diane and her husband moved to Wimauma, her parents followed them here, moving next door.
“This was 20 years ago,” she says. “This is when I started coming to the Pantry. I would get food for my mom and dad.
“My mom died when she was 88; my dad died at 96,” she says. “I’m 78 now and I’m still coming here, because the cost of meat is sky high.”
Diane, who is the eighth car in line for food on this day, says, “I got here at 4 a.m. this morning. Sometimes I can’t sleep, so I may as well get up.
“Besides, the early bird gets the worm. But we get something so much better than worms. And everything is freshest early on, and the meat is still frozen soon after it’s put out.”