SPRING HILL — The idea for Behind the Stone Ministries came to John Stramiello two years ago when, while serving as vice president and assisting minister at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, he visited a website that had statistics about world hunger.
"I became aware that every 8 seconds, somewhere in the world a child dies of starvation or poverty-stricken conditions," Stramiello said. "It was then that I realized that one in four children in America goes to bed hungry. I thought maybe it was time to make a difference starting in our own back yard."
Now his ministry, along with Devereux Kids and the Boys and Girls Club of Hernando County, is sponsoring a school backpack giveaway on Aug. 14. It's just one of several projects the ministry has participated in during its first year.
When he was starting out in 2008, Stramiello did some brainstorming with his wife and ministry co-director, Wendy, and his pastor, the Rev. Tim Orrell, about the direction of the ministry. Stramiello says he had been praying for a ministry idea for five years and felt God was leading him to call it Behind the Stone Ministries, after hearing a song about Christ's resurrection called Behind the Stone. The song was written by Michael Duxstad of Potter's Clay, a praise band from the church.
In August 2009, Behind the Stone Ministries, in conjunction with Love Your Neighbor ministry, attained nonprofit status.
The ministry's mission, according to its website, is to "feed the hungry in our community in a dignified manner, while providing respite and education for families in need."
Stramiello says that means more than just handing out food and clothing, as the ministry has been doing from a recreational vehicle from 9 to 11 a.m. each Thursday in the church parking lot. The ministry's vision, he said, is to create a farming community and a local food bank that would benefit all Hernando County food pantries.
"I would love to have a 50- to 100-acre area where we could do hydroponic farming, bring in small homes or mobile homes and bring families in to teach them how to do a checkbook, how to write a resume, what to say on a job interview, get people to teach them computer skills," Stramiello explained. "It's very difficult for a man to walk into a food pantry and say that he can't provide for his family. But if you put that same man in a community and help him and he gardens with you and he works and toils and brings that food home, he worked for that food. That's a big difference."
Stramiello also hopes other churches and organizations will unite to collect and distribute food to pantries throughout the county. As a retired post office employee who was active in the postal workers' annual food drive, he knows how to go about it.
"Every year, we worked with 30 to 35 food pantries," he said. "So if I need something, I have no problem calling any one of them. Or if I come into a load of food, I don't have a problem calling them and saying I have excess."
Behind the Stone Ministries receives food from several sources, including bread regularly donated by Panera Bread and two Subway restaurants in Spring Hill.
Currently, the Thursday feeding supports 130 to 150 people a month. Stramiello would like to see that number increase.
"I want as many people as we can get that need help to come," he said.
And, because that will necessitate a lot more work, he hopes people will step up and volunteer to share their "time, talent or treasures."
"Right now my wife and in-laws do most of the work," he said. "I'm getting more and more volunteers. Nancy Disciascio, who donated the RV, is an integral part of the ministry."
Stramiello is also looking for people who can swing a hammer or use a handsaw or paintbrush for a project called Christ's Carpenters.
"We want to adopt a community in the 34606 (ZIP code) area and go in and start putting up ramps or fixing windows or doing some light work for people that just can't afford to do it," he said, noting that Love Your Neighbor has a similar ministry in the Brooksville area. "I think if we start making our community better and show that we care about it, then more people will jump on board. I want the community to get involved."
With organizations offering him pallets of food, he is hoping someone will offer a warehouse for storage of nonperishables.
Stramiello wants people to know that the ministry isn't about him or about getting people to go to church.
"I'm willing to do God's work with my hands, as long as he gets the glory," he said. "All I'm telling you is that if you're hungry, I'll feed you. If you need clothes, I'll give you clothes. Then if you want to talk about Jesus Christ, I'll be more than happy to tell you just how wonderful he is. That's all it's about.