by SARAH NACHIN
Hernando Sun Reporter
Although Evan Sommerfeld has been with People Helping People (PHP) for only six months, he has an expansive vision for the non-profit organization. Sommerfeld took over as Executive Director after the first of this year - the only paid employee among a large group of volunteers.
The PHP Help Center is located at 1396 Kass Circle in Spring Hill.
“This is a huge need area because the average income here is lower and the amount of rented houses versus owned homes is higher. There are a lot of homeless in the area also,” Sommerfeld explained.
The organization purchased the building that houses the center and leases part of it out. The remaining 3900 square feet is made up of a commercial kitchen, large food pantry, offices, reception area and a large room where it will serve meals to the homeless and needy. There is also a washer and dryer for the homeless to do their laundry and a shower for those who do not have those facilities.
People Helping People has four programs called “Blessings.” These are Sunday Blessings, Weekend Blessings, Senior Blessings and Neighborhood Blessings.
Sunday Blessings serves about eighty people every week at the Senior Citizens Center on Rhanbuoy Road in Spring Hill. These include homeless people, the elderly on a fixed income and families that are barely scraping by. In March they will start having the Sunday dinners at their center on Kass Circle.
Weekend Blessings, or the Backpack program, feeds school children who qualify for the subsidized school meal program and whose families have limited resources for food on the weekend.
“Because of the food they get on the weekend, these children’s attention span is better in school, they have better attendance, their test scores are better and their discipline is better,” Sommerfeld commented.
Seniors Blessings provides 258 senior citizens with supplemental groceries every month. These are people on fixed incomes. They’re not homeless, but they have a difficult time making ends meet. Because of this program people don’t have to make that decision of “do I get my prescriptions filled or do I eat.”
Neighborhood Blessings for the homeless and “near homeless” serves an average of sixty-five people a hot meal every Tuesday and Friday. They have sponsors that pay for those meals and some are cooked at the center.
People Helping People does not receive any government funds. However, they receive a United Way grant and some corporate grants, including $15,000 from Suncoast Credit Union. A number of clubs and churches host fundraisers for them, also.
PHP’s center will enable the organization to extend its reach far beyond what it is doing now. The organization plans to find partners to fill human services that have geographic voids, for example medical services or re-housing services.
“These partners can use our space to deliver their programs to people who aren’t getting them because of geography,” Sommerfeld remarked.
PHP is putting together a GED program so people can continue their education. It will also implement training programs for people to find jobs in the food service industries and other fields. Helping people to get replacement documentation together so they can get birth certificates, Social Security cards and drivers’ licenses is another goal of the organization.
“We partner with the Mid Florida Homeless Coalition. We take information about the clients we serve and put it into a database. Then the Mid Florida Homeless Coalition can view this information and help them see what services these people need. We help collect the data on our clients so that they have documentation for housing and other services,” Sommerfeld concluded.
Anyone who needs food or other necessities can call their Hunger Helpline seven days a week from 8am - 8pm at 352-405-1115 and someone will come to you and/or direct you to the best resource.
As with any non-profit organization raising money is very important. On Saturday, March 9, PHP will hold a Fiesta Day, Chili Cook-Off and Dessert Bake-Off at their center located at 1396 Kass Circle from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It promises to be a fun day for the whole family and a great way to help a worthwhile cause. For more information call 352-686-4466 or go to their website - www.PHPHenando.org