Serving Citrus, Hernando, and Sumter counties, the Community Food Bank (CFB) is seeing a time of unprecedented need in this region. The agency, which served approximately 30,000 individuals per month in 2019, now provides for more than 70,000 monthly; Including 35,000 people right here in Hernando County, an area CFB has been serving for 17 years. Yet CFB is meeting the need and rising to the challenge, finding new and creative ways to get more food to more people. Executive Director of the CFB Barbara Sprague reports, “We now have 10 food distribution sites in Hernando County. Our newest sites are Crown of Life Church (Corona De Vida) in Spring Hill, and Christ Lutheran Church in Brooksville.”
After qualifying for a low-interest loan, the CFB acquired the Hunger Relief Complex, located on W. Cardinal Street in Homosassa. This complex is a pair of warehouse structures that CFB uses to receive, sort, pack, and deliver donated and low-cost food to the more than 60 food pantries, shelters, ministries, and senior centers the agency serves throughout Citrus, Hernando, and Sumter counties. Barbara Sprague shares, “We’re seeing a lot more people at the pantries, some of whom might be using their last gallon of gas to find a food distribution site. We needed more places to get more food supplies to more people in need.”
And the need is great. “We are growing in the number of people served because of the depth and severity of the need. People are struggling beyond anything we’ve seen before,” said Sprague. “The depth of the need is hurting people.”
The Hunger Relief Complex was established to meet the need. Sprague explained, “We’ve been working over capacity for the past two years and knew we had to expand to meet the critical need so we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to purchase the property we were leasing, which already had additional vacant warehouse space. Being able to secure the property for less than half of its market value was such a relief. Best of all, we are continuing to utilize the property for its intended purpose – a hunger relief campus to support individuals and families struggling with food insecurity.”
The community is now being called upon to support the CFB’s efforts to respond to an enhanced requirement for food assistance, a need that has more than doubled since the onset of the pandemic. The Community Food Bank is issuing a matching donation challenge to help offset their attained loan and to once again be able to operate debt-free. That is a challenge that involves the support of The Black Diamond Foundation, residents of Black Diamond Ranch and Citrus County who have formed a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization dedicated to contributing to the charitable needs of Citrus County. Since the group’s inception in 2002, they have contributed more than $2,800,000 to the residents of Citrus County. As a part of this challenge, Black Diamond Ranch will match up to $50,000 in donations to the Community Food Bank. “People can donate one time only, or might choose to pledge a certain amount for a monthly donation,” said Sprague. “An office or club might get together and do a special collection.” Make a donation to the CFB expansion fund before July 7th and it will be matched dollar for dollar, thus doubling the difference you make. Visit feed352.org to learn more about becoming one of the CFB’s “Hunger Heroes.”
Here in Hernando, community activist and Church Secretary Jessica Longoria is spearheading CFB food distribution efforts at Christ Lutheran Church, 475 North Ave. West, Brooksville. Longoria stated, “We’re seeing more than twice the level of need we once did. We’re so grateful that we got connected with Miss Barbara.” Many CFB food supplies go into the preparation of the church’s community breakfast, served 9-10 am on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, and the community dinner, 4:30-6 pm the third Wednesday.
“We welcome 300 people each third Wednesday night,” said Longoria. “We serve to-go style meals.” The church also can provide food on a case-by-case basis if contacted, and is making plans to establish a food trailer project; one in which they can go out into the community to help more people in need. Longoria shared, “With other places shutting down,we wanted to help.”
Javier Sanchez is leading CFB food distribution efforts at Crown of Life Church. “I always try to help the poor and homeless,” said Sanchez. “But before I did it alone, with my own money.” With the aid of CFB, Sanchez and Crown of Life have doubled the number of families receiving food at their twice-monthly distributions from noon to 3:30 pm on the second and fourth Thursdays at the church, 7197 Centerwood Ave., Spring Hill. “When you see the gratitude coming from these families,” he said, “That’s when you know you’re doing the right thing.”