Every Tuesday, a line forms outside the Good Samaritan Mission. Most folks come for the food pantry and the free clothing store. Many repeat the trip week after week without seeking anything more. Bill Cruz, the Good Samaritan's executive director, understands. "Some people do just take the food and go home," he said. "Then there is the small subgroup of people who want to go beyond that." That is where the heart of the mission truly lies.
"We are throwing a rope and asking if anybody wants to grab our rope and get out of the hole," Cruz said. "We help them go from being victims to victors to volunteers."
Emma Gonzalez, 35, did just that.
As a child, her family came to Good Samaritan, which was formed in the 1980s by Cruz's parents, for clothing and food.
"It has been a big part of my life," she said.
Now, she works in the mission's clothing department helping others.
"I have six children so I know how hard it is to clothe all of them," she said.
And the mission's services go far beyond those basic needs.
Jesus Ledesma Quintana came to the mission for years. When Maria Molina, the organization's family support worker, first met Quintana, the 87-year-old had no food or health insurance.
"So we got him some food, applied him for Medicaid and food stamps, then got him to the doctor," Molina said.
He didn't have eyeglasses, so she sent him to an eye doctor. He doesn't have teeth, so this month the mission is sending him to the dentist.
Quintana says he owes his life to the Good Samaritan. And to Cruz.
"He's a really good person. God brought him here," Quintana said.
He's not the only one who feels that way.
Last month's rumors of the mission's impending closure due to financial problems upset many people.
Although the mission has had its share of difficulties, Cruz said, it will not be closing.
"Is the Good Samaritan Mission struggling? Yes, but so is everyone else," he said.
Without government support, the organization relies on donations to cover its monthly costs, about $45,000, which includes payroll for 10 employees, and utilities.
Like other charities, the mission took a blow when the economy went bad. The organization ran into additional challenges when Cruz's parents left in 2009 to start a new mission in Ruskin and some of their donors followed.
In recent years, the mission has cut costs and sold a piece of land to pay off the current property. They have used up much of their savings, but are current on their bills and have no outstanding debts, Cruz said.
Each month is a waiting game as they rely on God to bring in the resources they need, Cruz said. Instead of worrying, Cruz prays.
"I cannot afford to worry," Cruz said. "Because if I worry, I may make the wrong decision."
Instead, Cruz is focused on renewing the Good Samaritan's push to be a place of learning and growth.
"To make a significant impact, we must put the money into the individual," he said.
Tapping resources in nearby areas such as Sun City Center, the mission sought out volunteers to teach sewing, English and even welding.
The mission also holds church services Tuesday morning prior to opening its food pantry. And a preschool run by Good Samaritan has about 30 children.
"If all we do is give them the food, are we really helping?" Cruz asked. "We want to help people become independent and teach them the concept of community."
Times staff photographer Carolina Hidalgo contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.