Joe Mackin, a co-founder of the Dunedin Food Pantry, is stepping down from his leadership role in Dunedin Cares.

DUNEDIN — Joe Mackin is retiring April 1 as president of the Dunedin Cares Food Pantry. But nobody needs to say to him don't be a stranger.

Volunteerism is in his blood, so Mackin plans to be an ambassador and a volunteer for the nonprofit service and has offered to pick up food in St. Petersburg or Tampa if need be.

"It would hard for me to completely walk away," said Mackin, who was involved from the onset of discussion years ago that led to formation of the nonprofit entity that runs the pantry.

Dunedin Cares stemmed from the vision of the late Ed Hughes, who was Dunedin Cares' first president.

In November 2015, Hughes, Mackin and a handful of volunteers opened the food pantry in a 600-square-foot back room of the Faith Lutheran Church.

At first, they had six patrons, then eight, then 10.

"We got up to 12 and we were like, 'Oh my gosh.' Going back in 2015 to 12 people in a day. During COVID we had 125 people a day, and now that we're pretty much past the COVID thing. ... Last week we had 203 people ... just in one week," Mackin said.

The patrons are appreciative of the pantry at 1630 Pinehurst Road. Numerous testimonies about the service have been recorded.

"It's mostly the kindness of the volunteers that really stands out," he said.

Mackin recalls a family visited the pantry and was so grateful that they were able to get food.

"Maybe six months later they came back, giving food. They said we got our job back; we just want to repay you guys for all that you did," he said.

Starting from jars of peanut butter and cans of green beans and corn, it didn't take the pantry long once they got into their current building to get meat and other products.

"Then we started buying eggs, and milk and cheese and all kinds of dairy products. We have freezers, we have refrigerators; we have a walk-in cooler," he said.

The pantry also has paper goods, can openers and other items besides food.

Dunedin Cares has distributed food through the use of car lines. But they became tedious and labor intensive. Hot weather also was a drawback.

In mid-March 2020, the drive-thru line at the Dunedin Food Pantry resembled a NASCAR race. That's how Mackin described the pantry's food-distribution process as the coronavirus began to take its toll on the area.

"All kinds of different things. Seems it was in August 2021 we continued to do the drive through for maybe a month. And we found most people want to come inside," he said.

So now all visitors can come inside to what he calls "a choice pantry." People can shop.

Hopes are that the pantry will eventually have a new building; the modular structure is considered too small for the needs.

Nevertheless, he compliments staff, saying Joanne Fell, the executive director, has done what he calls a "phenomenal job" managing and supervising volunteers.

Mackin will be extremely missed, said Kristina Garcia, who serves on the Dunedin Cares board of directors.

"He is very well loved at the pantry. He has put a lot of things in place that will help us run for the rest of the future," Garcia said.

She believes the momentum will continue with the rest of the board members remaining in place and with Fell at the helm.

Mackin worked about 20 hours a week at the pantry in addition to being a real estate agent among other responsibilities.

"I retired from that, too," he said.

Number one on his radar screen is taking a trip to Alaska, starting June 5, with his girlfriend. He will be 75 years old June 9. It will be an 11-day excursion.

"We're going to take a cruise and do the whole nine yards," he said.

When Hughes died in 2019, Macklin "kept the mission alive as the president, building the volunteer base, community contacts, outreach programs," the Dunedin Cares website says.

Suffice it say, the pantry has exceeded his expectations.

"When I look back it's just mind blowing. Even when Ed (Hughes) passed away in 2019, I was at his side and he said, 'Joe, did you ever think this thing would get so big? Feed so many people. No, I didn't'," Mackin said.