Serving Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties, the Community Food Bank (CFB) is experiencing an unprecedented time of need in this region. The agency, which served about 30,000 people a month in 2019, now serves more than 70,000 a month; Including 35,000 people right here in Hernando County, an area CFB has served for 17 years. Yet CFB is responding to the need and rising to the challenge by finding new and creative ways to provide more food to more people. CFB Executive Director 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, BFC acquired the Hunger Relief Complex, located on W. Cardinal Street in Homosassa. This complex is a pair of warehouse structures that the BFC uses to receive, sort, package and deliver donated and low-cost food to the more than 60 pantries, shelters, ministries and senior centers that the agency serves. through Citrus, Hernando and Summer Counties. Barbara Sprague shares, “We are seeing a lot more people in pantries, some of whom may be using their last gallon of gas to find a food distribution site. We needed more places to provide more food to more people in need.
And the need is great. “We are increasing the number of people served because of the depth and severity of the needs. People are struggling beyond anything we’ve seen before,” Sprague said. “The depth of need hurts people.”
The Hunger Relief Complex was created to meet this need. Sprague explained: “We have worked above our capacity for the past two years and knew we had to expand to meet the critical need. So we were very lucky to have the opportunity to purchase the property we were renting, which already had an additional vacant warehouse. space. Being able to secure the property for less than half of its market value was such a relief. Even better, we continue to use the property for its intended purpose – a hunger relief campus to support individuals and families struggling with food insecurity.
The community is now called upon to support BFC’s efforts to meet an increased need for food aid, a need that has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. The Community Food Bank is launching a Matching Gift Challenge to help offset their secured loan and to be able to operate debt free again. It’s 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 the county. of Citrus. Since the group’s inception in 2002, they have donated more than $2,800,000 to Citrus County residents. As part of this challenge, Black Diamond Ranch will match up to $50,000 in donations to the community food bank. “People can donate only once or can choose to pledge a certain amount for a monthly donation,” Sprague said. “An office or a club can get together and do a special collection.” Donate to the BFC Expansion Fund before July 7 and it will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling the difference you make. Visit feed352.org to learn more about becoming one of CFB’s Hunger Heroes.
Here in Hernando, Community Activist and Church Secretary Jessica Longoria leads CFB’s food distribution efforts at Christ Lutheran Church, 475 North Ave. West, Brooksville. Longoria said, “We are seeing more than double the level of need than before. We are so grateful to have been in contact with Miss Barbara. Many CFB food supplies go into the preparation of the Church Community Breakfast, served from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, and the Community Dinner, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. third Wednesday.
“We get 300 people every third Wednesday night,” Longoria said. “We serve take-out food.” The church can also provide food on a case-by-case basis if contacted, and is considering setting up 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 closing, we wanted to help out.”
Javier Sanchez leads CFB food distribution efforts at Crown of Life Church. “I always try to help the poor and the homeless,” Sanchez said. “But before, I was doing it alone, with my own money.” With help from the BFC, Sanchez and Crown of Life doubled the number of families receiving food during their bi-monthly distributions from noon to 3:30 p.m. 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.”