Kathy Mathis arrived about 7 a.m. Tuesday. The mother of three was trying to be one of the first in line to get the free bags of groceries being distributed at the Foundation Village Neighborhood Family Center.
Ryan Bargeron, 21, and his girlfriend, Veronica Prevost, 19, caught the bus from Largo to the center. With Bargeron in school and working part time at a KFC and Prevost having to babysit her 2-year-old sister while her mother works, it's hard to make ends meet sometimes.
"This really helps," Prevost said of the groceries while she walked back to the corner bus stop. "Every little bit helps."
In conjunction with America's Second Harvest of Tampa Bay, Foundation Village, a small nonprofit group on Woodlawn Street, handed out almost 500 bags of groceries to those in need Tuesday morning.
Nearly 450 residents signed up ahead of time with Foundation Village for the free food and the other 50 or so bags of groceries were given to other needy people who showed up Tuesday.
"If you look at that line, that tells you about the need in this community," said Coreena Downey, Foundation Village's executive director, while pointing at the line of folks wrapped around the building. "Our food bank is empty now and it's a tough time for everyone, including organizations like ours."
Mathis, who lost her job in telemarketing a month or so ago, agreed.
"For everybody, this is pretty important," Mathis said as she loaded the groceries into her car. "With the economy, a lot of people are out of work."
America's Second Harvest of Tampa Bay received about $15,000 from United Way to distribute food in Pinellas County. Foundation Village's giveaway was the fifth. Eight more are planned before year's end.
Second Harvest officials do not know where or when the other distributions will take place, but they plan to work with agencies they have worked with in the past. Many of those agencies are struggling to keep food in their food banks. "If we can help save someone $25 with a bag of groceries, then that's money that can go to a light bill or a medical bill," said Carolyn Riggins, America's Second Harvest's agency relations manager.
Each brown paper bag contained enough food to make a meal and amounted to about $13 in groceries, Riggins said. There were beans, rice, cans of fruit, soup and vegetables, cereal, crackers and a jar of peanut butter.
Besides what was in the bag, each person was given bread, milk, juice, sliced ham and some sort of pastry.
"We are hoping to fill a hole in the network because we noticed a dropoff of activity," said Pat Rogers, America's Second Harvest executive director, noting the struggles of organizations like Foundation Village. "We want to be able to provide support in the community until things get better."
Riggins wants permanent help to arrive at Foundation Village. "Our hope is that someone will see the need and come along financially and help them do this again or continually," Riggins said.
If it weren't for food giveaways like the one Tuesday, Susan Etheridge of Largo wouldn't make it, she said. The 50-year-old has been receiving disability payments for seven years.
When Etheridge is done paying bills with her $600 monthly check, she said she has about $5 left. She also receives $40 a month in food stamps.
"If it wasn't for this," Etheridge said, "I wouldn't have any food."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4174.