Well the world turns
and a hungry little boy with a runny nose
plays in the street as the cold wind blows
— Elvis Presley's In the Ghetto
I wish the Nativity Food Pantry and Food Bank would go out of business because it could find no more "hungry little boys."
I wish its warehouse was teeming with so many nonperishables and diapers and meat and potatoes that it would run out of space. I wish its leaders would scour the countryside and determine, "We have so much food, we can't give it away."
Sadly, my wish won't come true any time soon, if ever.
The truth is business is booming at the Brandon church's food pantry. Executive director Pat LeJeune typically grants three months' worth of food to a family. Back in the good old days, the family might return and the pantry would provide additional assistance.
No more. There simply are too many families for the pantry to stretch beyond its normal guidelines. After the three months, families are being referred to social service agencies.
"It is tougher because of the economy," LeJeune said. "It's also tougher because of the type of people we're serving."
More and more, it's not the poor calling or coming to the pantry's Dover location. It's proud members of the working class who no longer can find work. It's not just the downtrodden, it's the disabled. It's not just the anxious, it's the elderly.
"The stories you hear are much more intense," LeJeune said. "When people call, there's much more of a need."
Sometimes the needs go beyond the pantry's means. It distributes more than 3-million pounds of food through its own facility and 81 other ministries it supplies, and it does so on a budget of $90,000 — a figure that testifies to the pantry's efficiency.
Yet lately, folks have been asking for financial assistance with their electric bills, their water bills — services the pantry doesn't provide.
"I don't know what the answer is," LeJeune said.
Fortunately, donations have remained steady. Publix leads the way and the pantry also gets a considerable amount of commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The rest comes from dedicated Nativity parish members and others in the community. The more the pantry receives, the more it gives away.
So what can we do to help? Eat, drink and be merry.
Yep, it's that simple. Come to the "Taste of 2008" at the Nativity social hall on Sept. 20 and do all of those things for a mere pittance (tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door). Local restaurants will be on hand to supply tasty treats ranging from Indian cuisine to Mexican to pizza to desserts.
I'll be the emcee and entertainment will be provided by Peter Alden, an Elvis Presley tribute artist who does both a young Elvis and Las Vegas Elvis. Alden was such a huge hit last year, they brought him back.
I don't know if Alden will perform Elvis' version of In the Ghetto, but given that the pantry includes more than 11,000 children among its clients, it might be pretty appropriate.
People, don't you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he'll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
are we too blind to see,
do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way
That's all I'm saying.
Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at [email protected] or 226-3406.