BROOKSVILLE — Love Your Neighbor is all about helping people. In its short existence, the nonprofit Christian ministry, started by John and Lisa Callea in July 2007, has served more than 39,000 meals to hungry — and sometimes homeless — people.
The ministry also runs a flea market, a free repair service and a food pantry that has distributed more than 200,000 pounds of food. It also has facilitated the distribution of clothing and other essentials to those in need.
It all began when a former employee, Darcy Chase, was in the Rising Sun Cafe, owned by the Calleas on Main Street in downtown Brooksville, and invited a homeless man she saw on the street to come inside and have lunch. She paid for his lunches for a week.
John Callea talked to the man.
Chase and Lisa Callea wanted to do more.
"All of a sudden it was on Lisa's and Darcy's heart to start feeding the hungry," John Callea said.
The two women committed $40 each per month to be used to feed people.
John Callea, 56, was busy serving as a missionary with the Christian Contractors Association at the time and didn't plan to get involved. But his mind soon changed.
"I would talk to people coming into the cafe, and everybody said they wanted to help (feed the needy)," Callea said. "So I called a meeting, and 45 people showed up. The following meeting we had another 35. So we basically started out with about 80 volunteers and had commitments from four or five restaurants that they wanted to cook a weekly dinner."
The first meal, provided by Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant, was served at the American Legion post on E Fort Dade Avenue, free of charge, to 45 people.
"From then on, it kept growing by word of mouth," Callea said. "We now average between 250 to 400 meals each Sunday."
Despite his early reticence, Callea became fully committed to the ministry.
"At the cafe, we get a huge mix of people that come in, and we've heard so many stories about the people that have fallen on hard times," he said. "We decided we were just going to love on our neighbor."
To Callea, love meant more than having people go through a buffet line to have food put on their plate.
"We wanted to actually serve people just as if we were at a restaurant," he said, "and serve them like we would want to be served. We wanted to sit down with them and build relationships."
The weekly meals are now served from 2 to 4 p.m. each Sunday at the First United Methodist Church on S Broad Street. There are about two dozen regular volunteers who help each week. Other volunteers come when they can, and several churches send volunteers once a month or once a quarter. There have been more than 1,900 volunteers helping with the ministry's various outlets since its inception.
Numerous area restaurants provide single-food items or complete meals.
In the past 2½ years, the ministry has grown and does much more than serve weekly meals.
Needs for beds, cribs, furniture and appliances have been met. Utilities have been paid, and tickets back home have been purchased.
Both a food pantry and a "Donation Station," in a warehouse at 406 W Jefferson St., are operated by the ministry.
"Donation Station has things that have been donated to us," Callea explained. "We let people come in, and whatever the Lord puts on their heart to pay for something, that's what it costs."
In March, there will be a flea market on the property for people to sell items to supplement their income.
The ministry's latest venture, an emergency home repair ministry begun in January and headed by Rick Lamb, has already helped dozens of families.
"The future objective is to try to reach out to the churches and stir up some of the men within the churches to form satellite ministries where they can go out to their own communities and start doing the same thing," Callea said.
With all of the additions to the ministry, Callea said he has no idea what to expect next.
"What God has done with Love Your Neighbor blows me away," he said.
He is in discussions with other food ministries, such as Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa, to try to bring more meals into Hernando County. And several local churches have expressed interest in beginning to serve dinners, with Love Your Neighbor as their distribution point.
"Many things must be worked out before we can begin," Callea said, "but it all starts with people who have a desire to serve, and it appears that we have that. I plan on continuing to dialogue and see what God does."
Currently, Love Your Neighbor has some pressing needs.
The ministry helps more than 100 families with grocery needs and is asking for nonperishable food for its pantry. Men's work clothes and shoes and children's clothing are also needed.
There is a need for building and plumbing materials for making repairs and constructing wheelchair ramps.
And the organization could use a volunteer coordinator.
While there are secular groups that also help those in need, Callea is quick to point out that Love Your Neighbor is a Christian ministry.
"First and foremost, we're after souls," he said.
In an e-mail letter to supporters last month, Callea admonished them.
"I have been stuck on two Bible verses the past few month, Ephesians 2:10 and Ephesians 3:20," he wrote. "What they basically say is that we have all been created in the image of Jesus to perform good works that God has already prepared for us to do, and that by God's mighty power within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we can ever imagine. Pray what he would have you do."