Volunteers sort through food donations at the Interfaith Food Pantry.
SEMINOLE – Many people might be surprised to learn that the Interfaith Food Pantry, Inc. finds itself most in need during the summer months, said Marcia Stone, who is acting as the pantry’s executive director with her husband, Ron Stone.
This summer is no different, she said, as the pantry scrambles to replace depleted food staples – beans, tuna fish, peanut butter, cereal, pasta, soup, even meats and dairy.
Many donations come into Interfaith during cooler months, closer to the holidays. But during the summer, children are home from school, where some impoverished families would rely on free and discounted meals being served to their children.
Those utilizing the pantry have access to it every 30 or 60 days depending on the time of year and amount of food available. Typically, the pantry provides enough food for three meals for three days for each member of a family.
“Well, that just doesn’t go very far when all the kids are home and they’re eating and munching,” Marcia said. “So we are really running low on a lot of the foods.”
Often, she finds herself adding an extra item or two to families’ bags to help them stretch the donations longer than three days, if possible.
“I’ve been trying to give them one extra meal, maybe an extra pasta meal or something to make a pot of soup and stretch it out,” she said. “Something so they get one more meal out of it.”
Every May, the United States Postal Service holds its Stamp Out Hunger food drive where letter carriers collect food donations along their routes. Interfaith benefits from this food drive. In the past, it’s received as much as nine tons of food from the drive.
This year, though, the pantry only received about three-and-a-half tons, Ron said. This barely got them through June and July, he added.
To supplement donations from that drive, the pantry has been forced to shop for additional groceries each week. Sometimes, the non-profit spends as much as $1,500 a week on food.
The pantry has partnered with Save-a-Lot for their shopping needs, Ron said.
“They’ve been a partner of ours as long as I’ve been here,” he said. “Their prices are as competitive as we can find.”
They also make the process easy for the organization, pulling the items from their grocery list in bulk.
“They make it as efficient as possible,” he said.
With such a hefty grocery bill, the pantry relies heavily on monetary donations in addition to food donations, Marcia said.
A number of local businesses and organizations have donated to the group, including recently Walmart and the city of Seminole. The Rotary Club of Seminole provides them with a monthly contribution. The Seminole Chamber of Commerce has also provided donations to the pantry out over the years.
The city has also “adopted” the pantry, Marcia added. Over the past two years, Mayor Leslie Waters has encouraged citizens to help the pantry stock its shelves by setting up food drop-off points around the city. Locations include City Hall, 9199 113th St.; Seminole Garden Apartments, 8275 113th St.; Seminole Chamber of Commerce, 7777 131st St. N., Suites 7 and 8; Freedom Square, 7800 Liberty Lane; Lake Seminole Presbyterian Church, 8505 113th St.; Lake Seminole Square, 8333 Seminole Blvd.; Seminole First Baptist Church, 11045 Park Blvd. N.; and Vintage by Design, 5141 Seminole Blvd.
The pantry, run by a consortium of 11 area churches and based out of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, 9530 Starkey Rd., was formed in the 1980s. It provides food to families who live south of Ulmterton Road and north of 22nd Avenue.
Since the Stones first became involved with the pantry eight years ago, it’s more than doubled the number of clients it serves annually.
“Last year, we served around 122,000 meals,” Ron said.
Clients range in demographics from families living out of their cars with a Bunsen burner and portable ice chests to homeless veterans living in tents in the woods while they await news on housing opportunities from Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” Marcia said. “You wouldn’t think it would happen in our Seminole-Pinellas Park area, but it does.”
Those interested in donating to or volunteering with the Interfaith Food Pantry should during its regular hours Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The phone number is 727-392-9365.