by KENNETH ANTON
Photography by ALEX ANTON
This year marks the 10th anniversary of People Helping People (PHP), a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable corporation dedicated to ending hunger and breaking the cycle of poverty in Hernando County. A celebration was held on Tuesday May 7, 2019 to recognize this landmark in the organization’s history and the grand opening of their Help Center. PHP provides a myriad of programs providing warm food, dry goods and much needed supplies to those in need.
The idea for PHP originally formed during a conversation between Rev. Kristin Wee, Cecil Bradley and Bill Yoos regarding hunger in the local community. Rev. Wee was a Lutheran pastor in Weeki Wachee and an extremely compassionate person who always wanted to do more for the area in which she lived. Cecil and Bill, both compassionate individuals themselves, brainstormed alongside Reverend Wee and the idea for PHP’s original program (Sunday Blessings) was born. In the years since, Sunday Blessings was supplemented by three other programs (Weekend Blessings, Senior Blessings and Neighborhood Blessings), all focused on breaking the cycle of hunger and homelessness. The organization currently has 16 board members presiding over the operations.
Since its inception, PHP has been an organization managed and run by volunteers. The programs were offered in various locations throughout the area as PHP had no physical location in which to conduct its business. In March of this year, that all changed. Through the sale of a property and various charitable distributions of funds, they were able to acquire a building in which they could solidly operate.
On May 7, Pat Crowley, the president of the chamber of commerce, along with Evan Sommerfield (PHP’s executive director and only paid employee) presided over a ribbon cutting ceremony which officially opened the new facility for business.
In March of 2015, PHP acquired funds to purchase a new facility, the ownership of which will provide them a revenue stream through rent paid by businesses already established in the building. The space to be used was in severe disrepair and required massive amounts of remodel in order to be usable for their purposes. A series of fundraising campaigns was started in order to acquire the capital that PHP required to move forward with the project. Initially, PHP relied on yard sales, donations and a GoFundMe campaign which provided what they needed to begin. The construction and remodel process was a true testament to the name of the organization: People Helping People.
In March of 2016, with the help of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, PHP was able to begin demolition on the building. The next three years saw a wave of community support focused on getting the facility in working order. Businesses from around the area lent a hand in completing this momentous project: three Hernando County Rotary Clubs volunteered time and effort in cleaning up debris after flooring, electricity and plumbing were all completed. Managers from Publix stores in the area came in to assist in the painting the interior of the building. Community and Board members donated personal items and time to yard sales, chili-cook off, bake-offs and several other community events. On March 24th of this year, PHP prepared the first official meal in their new commercial kitchen.
Tuesday’s celebration was the culmination of all the effort and hard work put forward to realize this dream.
Many of the volunteers who helped shape the space were in attendance. Also present for the celebration was one of the original founders, Bill Yoos and longtime Rotarian Mel Greene who is also the husband of one of PHP’s founders, Judy Greene. Applause rang through the building as Evan formally thanked the many who put forth their time and effort.
People Helping People has four core programs it operates and during the grand opening speech, Evan Sommerfield expounded on exactly what those programs do.
The original program is run with generous donations from restaurants, caterers and community organizers. Sunday Blessings provides meals for anyone who needs a nutritious hot meal, served with dignity. The primary recipients of this program are the elderly, the unemployed and families in need.
It was found that many families in the area are struggling financially and the food goes a long way in supporting them as they attempt to improve their situations:
“The relief of just one cooked meal for families who are trying to decide: ‘Do I buy my medications this week or do I buy groceries?’ ”
“Not just food in bellies, it is the human element…around the country, schools see better test scores, more teachers spend more time being teachers, less time being disciplinarians, attendance is better. Hunger changes a person so just by feeding those bellies and helping them normalize and feel better it teaches them that they’re loved and teaches them what they’re capable of.”
An estimated 71% of elementary and middle school children in Hernando County are currently on free and reduced lunch. With no way of knowing if these children are receiving proper nutrition during the weekends, PHP organized the weekend blessings program. Weekend Blessings provides backpacks full of easy to prepare food for children to take home on Friday afternoon. Currently, this program has 730-740 children enrolled and is backed by many donors (Suntrust Bank and United Way to name a couple). Potential recipients are selected by school administrators. The backpacks are returned on Monday, refilled and distributed again the following week.
Many senior citizens in Hernando County attempt to provide for themselves using Social Security alone. The maximum social security payment, according to Investopedia.com, for seniors in 2019 is $2,861. According to assistedlivingfacilities.org, the average cost of assisted living in the state of Florida is approximately $3,150 per month. With the costs of living outweighing their actual income, some seniors find themselves in need of food they cannot afford at or near the end of any given month. Senior Blessings is a program run in conjunction with the Greater Love Outreach Ministry of Brooksville which delivers groceries twice each month to approximately 258 seniors in this area.
“It is surprising how many people are living in houses but they don’t have utilities, how many people are living in friends’ or families’ garages.”
After discovering a family of four living in a tent in the woods, having been recently evicted from their home, People Helping People established the Neighborhood Blessings program. This program delivers canned vegetables and proteins along with toiletries to people living in austere or homeless conditions. The program currently provides food to roughly three dozen individuals each week.
People Helping People, being an organization run by volunteers is always seeking help for its programs. If you are interested in joining this admirable cause or donating supplies, please contact them through their website: phphernando.org
1396 Kass Cir
Spring Hill FL 34606
Primary: +1 (352) 686-4466
Hunger Helpline: +1 (352) 405-1115
Help Center: +1 (352) 515-1663