TARPON SPRINGS — Wanda Weber calls the work of the Shepherd Center a community effort.
In recent days, the center has distributed toys, turkeys and other food, and quilts to needy residents of Tarpon Springs and beyond.
"It's amazing," said Weber, executive director of the center. "What a community. With so many people hurting from the middle class down, it's still amazing that people's hearts are so open."
The Shepherd Center is a faith-based nonprofit organization that partners with area churches and community organizations to provide food, clothing and health care to those in need. The center's achievements this holiday season include:
• Giving 60 senior citizens gift bags that included food, holiday treats and handmade quilts, with the help of the Unitarian Universalists Church quilters in Clearwater.
• Filling the wish lists of almost 400 children from Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Tarpon Springs.
• Distributing Christmas turkeys and food baskets Monday to 600 families in north Pinellas County, via its program dubbed Project THANKS.
Pat Weber, executive director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority, assisted the center with the senior citizen effort. She said the Shepherd Center "is a great, great resource for this community."
"A lot of our seniors don't have relatives here," said Pat Weber (no relation to Wanda Weber). "They are alone and their children are not living in Florida and the gifts and blankets, which were beautiful, lets them know that the entire Tarpon Springs community is thinking of them."
The Shepherd Center has two full-time and four part-time employees, plus nearly 270 volunteers.
"Our volunteers really are the strength of our organization," Wanda Weber said. "Our economy is not in a good place and we had this community pull together and say 'I'm not going to buy so much for myself but give to someone else.'
"We had people coming in that had never worked with us before, saying I want to do this or that. …I call them random acts of kindness."
Ron Haddad is chairman of the Shepherd Center's board of directors. He said 92 percent of the people served at the center are low income and elderly. The other 8 percent are the homeless.
"The people coming to us for help are people who are destitute and have no other resources," Haddad said. "Two or three years ago, they were our volunteers. But with foreclosures, loss of job, they need some help to get by from day to day. If it were not for the Shepherd Center, I wouldn't guess what would happen to these folks.
"And it's not just toys for kids. We are talking about basic necessities."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.