BROOKSVILLE — A turkey on every family's table for Thanksgiving is the goal of a number of churches, social service agencies and local businesses in Hernando County.
But that challenge is more daunting this year than ever before, many social service officials say.
"Rising food and gas prices, job layoffs and mounting foreclosures are bringing families to us who never thought they would need our assistance," said Lt. Samuel Kim of the local branch of the Salvation Army, based in Brooksville.
"And the number of people needing the Salvation Army's help is swelling before our eyes," he added. "This year (as of last week), we have applications for 1,004 clients. That's 274 families."
While the numbers are similar to those in 2007, he pointed out that this year, the organization didn't advertise its handout.
"We have less (food donations) coming in than in recent years," Kim lamented. The pantry is still in need of cranberry sauce, stuffing mix and pumpkin for the traditional holiday meal.
Also, financial donations were off in October. A gift of $100, sought through a mailing to past supporters, could fill as many as five food boxes. Variations occur when applicants range from a family of one to 11, he said. "But we are trying to do our best."
At the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Spring Hill, the request status is similar. "Over 800 signed up," said pantry volunteer Ruth Fromofky. "Last year it was around 400."
Churches have donated nonperishable foods and the society has purchased more, along with supermarket gift certificates for turkeys, Fromofky said. "We're confident we'll have enough. The Lord always provides for that."
JoAnne Munford, manager of the Jerome Brown Community Center in Brooksville, expressed equally cautious confidence.
Late last week she didn't have enough turkeys for Monday's free community sit-down dinner for about 120 diners. The center also provides some 75 dinners delivered to shut-ins and dispenses 50 family-sized bags of 10- to 12-pound turkeys and fixings. Christian Life Assembly of God and Bank of America were generous donors of turkeys, she said.
"We're still in the process of getting donations," Munford said. "I'm still hoping we'll probably get more. People of last year are supporting, but I think this year is a bigger need."
Frankie Burnett of south Brooksville agrees. He claims no group affiliation but many know him as Love Your Neighbor.
Canvassing his area, he found 135 families "definitely in need, people who fall through the cracks." The number is up by 35 percent from last year. He has identified sponsors for 75 of the families but yearns to fill the other dining tables.
The United Way has been his biggest supporter, Burnett said, supplying him with gift cards for turkeys.
But Burnett doesn't stop with shopping and boxing. He will personally cook at least 100 meals for delivery to elderly people who have difficulty cooking for themselves. The Frederick Keller Elks Lodge will deliver the goods.
Along with Burnett, some long-unsung donors to the food cause have stepped up to the plate again.
Chaney Chiropractic of Spring Hill is offering a day's service for the gift of five cans of food, which will be forwarded to the Salvation Army. Last year the clinic collected 357 items.
Nature Coast Flooring of Spring Hill, host for the chamber of commerce after-hours mixer this week, requested nonperishable food items as admission, to be given to the Spring Hill United Church of Christ.
Joining in the effort for the first time, the Hernando County Association of Realtors is conducting a Thanksgiving food drive through Monday. Goods can be dropped off at any local real estate office or Cortez Community Bank.
Beth Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.