The big red building on Land O’ Lakes Boulevard might not fetch more than a causal glance from some passersby, but many who step through the doors say it’s a place where blessings are granted regularly.
The nonprofit food pantry located just south of Ehren Cutoff has been helping feed area families in need since 1987. Although not always situated in its current 5514 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., home, the agency has grown through the years to meet the needs of the community.
Holding true to its Christian roots, the pantry has very few rules for those who receive assistance. Individuals or families in need just need to stop by during regular hours to receive emergency food staples. Help is given on an honor system, explained Jacquie Petet, the agency’s executive director.
While tons of food goes out of the agency’s doors each month to hundreds of families in need, Petet said the community always steps up to make sure the food doesn’t run out.
“We are blessed,” she said, noting that 12 area churches and their congregations assist in keeping the pantry’s shelves stocked. Area residents also lend a hand by donating nonperishable food items, money and extras, such as presents for children during the holidays and backpacks at back-to-school time.
Christian Social Services also is partially self-supporting thanks to an onsite thrift store that’s open to the public.
Even though support for the mission is strong, Petet said additional help is always welcomed and needed. The last few years especially have been difficult with the economy down and donations to regular food drives, such as the postal carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger drive, down with it.
Before the economy turned a few years ago, the postal drive brought enough food into the pantry to handle demand for months. That’s no longer the case, Petet said.
“The last few years, it’s been substantially down,” she said.
There are many ways area residents can help out, said Llurah Utt, a longtime volunteer at Christian Social Services. Not only can they donate food, money or even items for the thrift store, but volunteers are always needed as well.
“We always welcome people that want to volunteer,” Utt said.
Christian Social Services operates its pantry and community thrift store with the help of three full-time employees — including Petet — and two part-time workers. About 20 volunteers fill in the gaps to make sure shelves are stocked, items are sorted, and bags of food are prepared for those in need.
“Our volunteers are a hundred times better than most people’s employees,” Petet said.
Employee Mike Head said the agency has been a godsend to his family and he’s been “blessed” to help others in return. Head began working at Christian Social Services several years ago after he was laid off from a full-time cable installer job.
While Mike now works at the agency, his wife Bobbi and two children, Bianka, 8, and Bryan, 10, are often at his side volunteering to help other families facing difficult times.
“It’s nice to be able to instill that,” Head said of giving back.
Christian Social Services’ pantry and thrift store are open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit CSS-HelpingHands.org, or call (813) 995-0088.
— Sherri Lonon