BRANDON — Stacy Efaw has seen the tears and despair of economic stress in Brandon.
Efaw, executive director of the Emergency Care Help Organization, recalls the day that a licensed tradesman came forward, crying as he asked for donations to feed his two children. He had just sold all of his tools for cash. Then there's the local Realtor who was once a frequent donor and is now a client.
In six years, Efaw has never seen ECHO's pantry shelves so empty. Donations are still coming in from some civic groups, local businesses and schools, but it's only enough to distribute on a day-by-day basis.
"We're getting a lot of demand for services but not as much from the donation end. So we're pretty much getting hit from both ends," she said. "Our donations are really down. We're getting enough just for each day. Our back-up supply is pretty much gone".
At a time when budgets are tight, some Brandon residents are still keeping their hearts open to those in need. In an effort to help needy families, more than a dozen Brandon-area churches have organized a Feed the Bay food drive. Unlike its first year when the effort was run by Bay Life Church in Brandon, it will now be sponsored through at least 15 churches.
"In 2006, before it was called 'Feed the Bay,' we collected 30,000 pounds of food," said Cindy Perkins, connections director at Bay Life Church. "We had a vision: If we could collect 30,000 pounds of food in three hours, what could a community do? We're being the church doing what the church should do as a body."
From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 23, participating churches will distribute preprinted shopping lists.
Donors purchase items at designated Sweetbay and Publix supermarkets and hand the food over to local grocers, who are providing trucks to haul the food to ECHO and 12 other local food banks.
Sweetbay Supermarkets will also be donating 5 percent of all sales between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. at participating stores. It's a plan that is simple in concept but has profound effects, said senior pastor Tommy Green of First Baptist Church of Brandon.
"It just requires that you get things on the list, give them to the collectors and you go home," he said.
"The simplicity of it and the reality of what's going to be accomplished is larger than just one church and family. Folks are energized by that."
Efaw is hoping the entire community will help stock ECHO's food bank into next year. She encourages schools, businesses and individuals to donate whatever nonperishable items they can give or donate money that ECHO can use for discounted purchases of bulk food.
The goal of the organization is to get through the holidays and maybe stretch the donations into February. Church leaders are confident in the strength of their numbers and the community's generosity.
"I'd like to see our food banks stocked up for three to five months," said Bay Life's Perkins. "It's a God thing. It's his plan. It's nothing new. If the church could serve the needs of the community, there would be no hunger."