NEW PORT RICHEY — It was gut-wrenching last year when they ran out of food and gift cards.
For a year, the sadness of turning dozens of people away from the annual Farm Share Holiday Food Giveaway had stuck with state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
So much so that planners for this year's event at Redeemer Community Church made sure that everyone would be served. On Friday, relief swept over volunteers that 550 hams, hundreds of boxes of vegetables and numerous crates of lemonade met the needs of hundreds of families who showed up for the giveaway. The food came from Florida's farmers as well as donations by Publix, AT&T and other individuals and organizations.
The two-hour event went so smoothly that Fasano still had a stack of Publix gift cards to give out to a few stragglers who arrived after the food was gone. The remaining cards will be donated to local charities, he said.
"I can't tell you what it was like to tell people last year that we had run out of food and gift cards," said Fasano. "We really made an effort to get more donations this year and it paid off."
The need still remains astounding for Fasano, who has spearheaded the event for 18 years. This year's giveaway went from 10 a.m. to noon at the Ridge Road church. Dozens of volunteers joined Fasano at the event, including state Rep. Richard Corcoran, Sen. John Legg, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco and County Commissioner Henry Wilson.
Fasano said they received more donations this year, he believes, because people learned of the needy being turned away last year once the food ran out.
"I think in these times, people really feel compassion when they see so many people in need," Fasano said.
And the need is surely there.
"We had people lining up at midnight," Fasano said. "You see a mother of seven crying when you give her food, and it just means so much."
With six children at home, 28-year-old Lindsey Bailey said she was grateful for the help. She said her husband works at Walmart, but money is still tight.
"It's really helpful. It's just such a big help," she said.
The elderly were among the many who showed up for assistance. It was not a surprise to Fred Taylor, executive director of Consulate Health Care of New Port Richey. He said many don't have the accommodations of an assisted living facility.
"It's a huge need," Taylor said as he helped distribute food. "The baby boomers are coming. It's really a tsunami of need coming."
Lucy Morris, 70, pulled up after the hams were given out, but Fasano gave her a $25 gift card from Publix.
"Mr. Fasano!" she exclaimed with glee. "It's an honor to meet you."
She said her husband passed away in August and she needed some help.
"It's wonderful that they help. It also helps me emotionally to know that they care," Morris told the Times.
Nocco helped his deputies direct traffic and met with constituents who raised their concerns over drugs and domestic violence.
"We're law enforcement and we have a job to do, but it's also nice to show this side of us as well —that we are here for the community," he said.
The event was also a great learning experience for children who helped the volunteers. Wilson's 12-year-old son, Christopher, took the day off from Seven Springs Middle School to lend a hand. Fasano joked that if the school gave him any guff for missing a day, Christopher could say the state representative gave him the green light.
"It means a lot to help children have a nice Christmas," Christopher said. "It makes me feel good to help."