By Molly McGowan
Programs like Pasco County’s Elderly Nutrition services thrive because of the generosity of others, and for the past 33 years, the meal service has been able to provide free food for participants over 60 at eight dining sites throughout Pasco County.
However, back in June, the existence of the Zephyrhills location was threatened when the church partner, which had housed the service for 19 months, was no longer able to afford the cost of hosting the program. Elderly Nutrition Program Manager Gabriel Papadopoulos was left to scramble for a new church in the area that could afford to host the 35 seniors who depended on the lunch service. And that’s where Father Ed Scully stepped in.
Originally from St. James Episcopal in Albion, Mich., Father Scully had just relocated to Florida in March and had been with St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal for only a short time when Papadopoulos contacted him in July. Though Scully’s congregation is in Zephyrhills, he lives in the Temple Terrace area, and thus was astounded that Papadopoulos had located him so soon after his arrival to Florida.
“What’s the probability that this guy would find me in a county I don’t even live in?” Scully said, remembering Papadopoulos’ phone call. “I thought, ‘How can I refuse a guy named Gabriel? He must be an angel.’” So after four months without a church home, Pasco County’s Elderly Nutrition program was able to serve lunch again in Zephyrhills Mondays through Fridays.
Scully is no stranger to serving the elderly community. Back in Michigan in 2002, he spearheaded the campaign to build a soup kitchen in an area with a great deal of poverty. Scully said he remembers how limited both the menu and turnout were that first night. He said the meal consisted of 24 cans of Progresso lentil soup and “there were more professionals there (to view the opening) than there were clients.” By week three there were six clients and the number finally grew to 50, “depending on the meal we were serving,” Scully said. The menu had also evolved, to barbecue or turkey dinners, with salads and desserts.
The program in Michigan relied heavily on volunteers and donations, as does the Zephyrhills branch of Elderly Nutrition Services. According to Papadopoulos, there are about 20 volunteers at the location, and its popularity is growing; the old location usually hosted about 35 patrons, but the new location at St. Elizabeth’s is seeing upwards of 50 on average. Both Papadopoulos and Scully are excited about the program’s growth, and Scully is thrilled by all the different activities provided for the elderly. He said that in addition to church parishioners volunteering on a daily basis, a health and wellness team visits monthly to run blood pressure checks and other basic services. Encouraged by the joined forces of Elderly Nutrition Services and St. Elizabeth’s, Scully wants to do even more for seniors in the area. “There are still too many community elderly who go hungry or fall by the wayside because they don’t have money, he said.”
Regardless of any potential plans for the program, Papadopoulos feels blessed to have made an ally of Scully, and Scully said he feels led by God to provide his church as the Zephyrhills location. “That’s what we’re about,” he said. “Food for the journey.”