SPRING HILL — When John Stramiello and his family learn of an idea to help people in need in Hernando County, they're likely to pitch in.
And this summer, they have several projects in the works.
The first is Behind the Stone Ministries, which Stramiello, a retired postal worker, and his wife, Wendy, formed three years ago to feed the hungry. Working alongside them are Wendy's parents, John and Barbara Hutchings.
"We started in 2009 handing out food and necessities to 30 families," Stramiello said. "Right now we have over 500 families a month, so there's a great need for this in our community."
The ministry distributes donated food and other essentials from its recreational vehicle, parked at New Song Worship Center, 6001 Deltona Blvd., from 5 to 6:30 p.m. each Thursday.
So dedicated are the Stramiellos to serving the hungry, they have set aside one room in their house for a food pantry and use another to store housewares and necessities. Their living room holds the overflow.
"We felt it was a necessity," said Stramiello, 53. "It was just something we wanted to do."
This summer, the ministry is collaborating with Communities in Schools of Hernando County — a dropout prevention program that provides books to children.
"We are coming alongside Behind the Stone Ministries to provide reading opportunities for the children of those who come (to the food distribution) each Thursday until Aug. 9," said Tracy Echols, executive director and president of the program.
There is a story time each week — including monthly visits from the Early Learning Coalition and Hernando County Public Library vans — that coincides with the food pickup. Each child has the opportunity to take a book home to keep or exchange in the following weeks.
"We just felt it was a good idea to keep the children reading throughout the summertime," Stramiello said, noting that between 100 and 200 children might come with their parents to the food distribution each week. "It can only benefit them when they get back to school."
Echols said books — and volunteers to read them — are needed. All inspirational, motivational and educational books for young people are appreciated. Books will be reviewed before distribution to make sure they are appropriate. For information, call community volunteer coordinator Lillian Rosenzweig at (352) 428-9283.
Behind the Stone is also, for the third year, lending its support to a community effort to provide county students with backpacks and school supplies.
Noreen St. Jean, community facilitator for the Devereux Kids program paid for by Kids Central Inc., said she was looking for ways to work with the community and to help children when Stramiello stepped up to the plate.
"Together, our community has partnered together to keep kids safe and offer resources, including backpacks, that will meet their needs," St. Jean said. "John's ministry is one of the biggest parts of that connection."
Shine the Light Ministries, Holy Cross Lutheran Church and the Gathering also are involved in the backpack project, as are Winn-Dixie stores, Paul and Jerry's Self Storage and the Boys and Girls Club of Hernando County. Individual residents, such as Tina Tauriello, and volunteers from Christian Church in the Wildwood help as well. Together they form the Spring Hill Neighborhood Project.
"We work together as one unit to build the capacity of resources in our area," St. Jean said. "We all have to work together to make it work, and we support each other's mission, no matter what."
Last year the group worked together to distribute 700 backpacks filled with supplies. This year the goal is at least 1,000 backpacks at the "Annual Backpack Giveaway" from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Aug. 18 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 6193 Spring Hill Drive.
To encourage donations, there will be five "Tools for School" collection events. The first is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at Jersey Cafe, 12993 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville. There will be $2 raffle tickets available for prizes such as movie tickets and gift cards. All proceeds will be used to purchase additional backpacks and school supplies.
Upcoming events are June 30 at Winn-Dixie, 2240 Commercial Way, Spring Hill; July 7 at Winn-Dixie, 11092 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill; July 14 at Winn-Dixie, 1230 S Broad St., Brooksville; and July 21 at Winn-Dixie, 6270 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee. Each event is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In addition to backpacks, needed supplies include lined paper, pencils, markers, crayons, rulers, calculators, notebooks, folders, composition notebooks, erasers, highlighters, pens, pencil cases and index cards.
Collection boxes also are available throughout the county.
Stramiello said he and his family involve themselves in helping the community with these events because the Bible instructs them to.
"All the glory goes to God," he said, "because this is his ministry and he provides for us."