BRANDON — Christmas came early for the Emergency Care Help Organization, with two awards given to the Brandon food and clothing pantry in the past month.
First the organization, known as ECHO, earned enough votes in an online radio contest to win a $15,000 "extreme office makeover" from Tampa-based Refurbished Office Furniture. The contest sought to recognize Tampa Bay's best charities, according to a news release. ECHO was one of five finalists.
"We certainly have a lot to be thankful for this year," said ECHO director Stacey Efaw in the release.
Irma Davila, an ECHO board member, said she was shocked by the number of people who responded with votes. You'd think the radio station was doling out concert tickets, Davila said. "It was incredible."
Davila said ECHO desperately needs the office makeover, noting that the facility's small, open waiting area forces distraught clients to share personal problems with a receptionist in front of a room of people.
"This will allow us an opportunity to keep the dignity of our clients intact," Davila said.
Days after that award, the Tampa/Hillsborough County Human Rights Council told ECHO it was chosen as one of this year's Human Rights Award honorees, to be recognized at the council's 37th annual award breakfast next week.
The organization will share the award with the I Am Hope Cafe, a homeless outreach program launched with help from ECHO but separately operated.Past award recipients include Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt, the late philanthropist George Steinbrenner, WMNF Community Radio and the Ophelia Project.
Founded in 1987, ECHO gives free food, clothing and household items to Brandon residents in emergency situations, such as job losses or illnesses. The charity estimates that it helps about 300 families each month.
"We do so much, and we don't do it for recognition, but it certainly is nice when we do get recognized," Davina said.
Those interested in donating or volunteering can visit echofl.org.
Reach Kim Wilmath at (813) 661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org