Serving Citrus, Hernando, and Sumter counties, the Community Food Bank (CFB) is experiencing a period of unprecedented need in the region. The agency, which served about 30,000 people per month in 2019, now serves over 70,000 people per month; Including 35,000 people right here in Hernando County, an area that CFB has been serving for 17 years. However, CFB is meeting needs and challenges by finding new and creative ways to deliver more food to more people. CFB Executive Director Barbara Sprague says, “We now have 10 food distribution locations in Hernando County. Our newest facilities are the Crown of Life Church (Corona De Vida) in Spring Hill and Christ Lutheran Church in Brooksville.”
Eligible for a low interest loan, CFB purchased the Famine Relief Complex located on W. Cardinal Street in Homosas. This complex is a pair of warehouse structures that CFB uses to receive, sort, package and deliver donated and low-cost food to the more than 60 food warehouses, shelters, ministries and nursing centers that the agency serves in Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties. Barbara Sprague shares: “We see many more people in the pantries, some of whom may be using their last gallon of gasoline to find a food distribution site. We needed more places to deliver more food to more people in need.”
And the need is great. “We have a growing number of people served because of the depth and severity of the need. People are fighting more than we’ve ever seen,” Sprague said. “The depth of need hurts people.”
The Famine Relief Complex was created to meet the need. Sprague explained: “For the last two years we have been pushing our limits and knew we had to expand to meet a pressing need, so we were very lucky to have the opportunity to purchase a property we were renting that already had an additional spare warehouse. space. Being able to insure a property for less than half its market value was such a relief. Best of all, we continue to use the property for its intended purpose, the 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 the increased need for food aid, which has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. The Community Food Bank is running a donation competition to help pay off a loan and be able to work debt-free again. This is a challenge that includes supporting The Black Diamond Foundation, Black Diamond Ranch and Citrus County residents who have formed a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to advancing the charitable needs of Citrus County. Since the group’s inception in 2002, they have donated over $2,800,000 to the people of Citrus County. As part of this challenge, Black Diamond Ranch will donate up to $50,000 to the Community Food Bank. “People can only donate once, or they can choose a specific amount for a monthly donation,” Sprague said. “The office or the club can get together and release a special collection.” Make a donation to the CFB Expansion Fund by July 7th and the amount will be dollar for dollar, doubling your difference. Visit feed352.org to learn more about becoming one of the CFB Hunger Heroes.
Here in Hernando, community activist and church secretary Jessica Longoria is leading the CFB food distribution effort at Christ Lutheran Church, 475 North Ave. West, Brooksville. Longoria said: “We are seeing more than twice as many needs as we used to. We are so grateful we contacted Miss Barbara.” Many CFB food items go towards the Church Community Breakfast, served from 9 am to 10 am on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, and the Community Dinner from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm on the third Wednesday.
“We host 300 people every third Wednesday night,” Longoria said. “We serve takeaway food.” The church can also provide food on a case-by-case basis if contacted and plans to create a food trailer project; one where they can get out into the community to help more people in need. Longoria shared, “As other places are closing, we wanted to help.”
Javier Sanchez leads the CFB food distribution effort at Crown of Life Church. “I always try to help the poor and the homeless,” Sanchez said. “But I used to do it alone, with my own money.” With the help of CFB, Sanchez and Crown of Life doubled the number of families receiving food during their twice-monthly food distribution from noon to 3:30 pm on the second and fourth Thursdays at the church, 7197 Centerwood Ave., Spring Hill. “When you see gratitude coming from these families,” he said, “then you know you are doing the right thing.”