SPRING HILL — Impressed by what they observed two years ago in Tampa at a Carefest sponsored by Somebody Cares Tampa Bay, professional athletics director Bill Weidner and the Rev. Jim Keller, pastor of Fellowship Community Church in Spring Hill, wondered if Hernando County could benefit from a similar outreach organization.
A chapter of the international Somebody Cares program had been operational in the county for several years, until about six years ago.
"When I first came to the church about nine years ago, Somebody Cares Hernando was active here," Keller said. "They gave out backpacks and even shoes to kids. Then it kind of fell into a sleep mode."
Keller and Weidner, who felt God was leading him into some type of Christian ministry, believed Somebody Cares Hernando County should be revived. Last October, they began holding luncheons and breakfast meetings to share their idea with local churches and organizations.
What they did not want to do was replicate what was already being done by local food pantries and other outreach programs.
"We wanted to assist them, complement them," Weidner said.
A year later, the ministry is thriving.
The organization's goal is stated on the website it launched in September at schernando.org:
"Somebody Cares Hernando County seeks to unite and mobilize churches, ministries, businesses, nonprofit organizations, civic organizations, schools and government agencies within Hernando County for the purpose of assisting with the community's ongoing efforts to address the needs of the less fortunate who reside in Hernando County through a centralized and collaborative team-oriented approach."
Teamwork was not new to Weidner. Before returning to Spring Hill last year, he was the deputy athletics director at the University of San Francisco. Prior to that, he was the deputy athletics director at the University of Central Florida. He has also served as director of athletics at Weber State University, the University of Texas-Pan American and Ashland University and assistant athletics director at Southern Methodist University. In addition, he served on the football coaching staffs of several universities.
The response from numerous churches and organizations to Weidner was positive, and he began developing his team — a volunteer executive staff and a board of directors.
He also formed a Missions Leadership Team to provide spiritual guidance for the ministry, consisting of Keller; Carl Brown, pastor of Community Bible Church, Brooksville; John Hensel, pastor of Christian Life Assembly of God, Brooksville, and Frank Prestigiacomo, executive pastor at Grace World Outreach Church, Brooksville.
Somebody Cares Hernando County is now a registered nonprofit organization and an official chapter of the Somebody Cares American International community outreach ministry organization. It is also a member of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.
One great area of need, the organization found, is feeding the hungry.
With its infrastructure in place, Somebody Cares began looking for a source of food. In May, Operation Blessing, a ministry based in Virginia Beach, Va., began sending 20,000 pounds of nonperishable food, toiletries and paper products each month for distribution to local food pantries. After being delivered to the Tampa ministry, the food is trucked to Hernando County. Food pantry partners need only pay $125 for about a 1,000-pound pallet to cover the cost of the transportation.
"We needed some type of warehouse site for people to pick these things up," Weidner said. "We now have a partnership with the Walmart Distribution Center in Brooksville. They've afforded us space, and we now have access to a fleet of forklifts and their staff of operators to get the pallets moved around and get them out to our partners. The good Lord has opened that door."
Somebody Cares has plans for several other ministries, among them providing backpacks with school supplies and participating in Somebody Cares Tampa's "Raise the Roof" yearly Christian concert. The organization has developed a prayer warrior team to respond to the many prayer requests it receives, and also has a Footprints ministry that assists with the community's "ongoing efforts to provide the basic necessities of life to those in need while developing healthy, self-sustaining communities, families and individuals."
And, starting at 8 a.m. today, the ministry will have its own Carefest, the first of what plans to be an annual event. Twenty projects have been lined up, with about 150 volunteers helping people throughout the county who are unable to do such things as home repairs.
"We've been blessed with folks who have stepped up to help us with procurement of supplies," Weidner said, naming Home Depot and Sherwin Williams as contributors. Spring Lake Water will provide water for the volunteers. Chick-fil-A will provide breakfast for the workers at Grace World Outreach Church. Shine the Light Ministries is setting up a barbecue celebration when the work is completed.
Weidner hopes the organization can evolve to the point where it has an ongoing Carefest.
"If we can get the supplies and the professional people, let's go out and do it," Weidner said.
Weidner, who refers to himself as a "servant leader" and notes that the larger purpose of the ministry is leading people to Christ, credits God for all of the ministry's successes.
"How we ended up with the warehouse facility and the forklifts and operators is a classic example of God's perfect timing and that his plans are much bigger than ours," he said. "Without his favor, none of this happens."