CARROLLWOOD — What started as a small closet housing a few donated food items has become a vast food pantry aiming to serve hundreds of needy people.
It was only six months ago that Village Presbyterian's pastor started collecting food donations for the few people who had come to the church looking for help.
But it quickly became apparent that the community's needs would far exceed the size of the Rev. Jim Yearsley's closet.
During a sermon, he discussed the quandary and his desire to start a new mission at the church.
Linda Cantor, 65, a retired speech pathologist, was there that day. She was immediately reminded of a conversation with a neighbor.
"I asked her how she was and she told me she was fine other than that she had just lost her job that day," said Cantor, who lives in Carrollwood Village. "Oh, my goodness, talk about hitting home."
Cantor started thinking about all of the foreclosure signs she had been noticing in her neighborhood.
Her neighbor, a 60-year-old widow, might face real difficulties finding a job again.
"It breaks my heart," she said. "It's amazing to think that people living here in middle-class ZIP codes need a food pantry, but the fact is, they do."
So Cantor, her husband, Roger, and a few other church members volunteered to "bring the pastor out of his food closet" and started building a 20-by-25-foot high-end pantry. Painted bright colors and lined with modular shelving units, the new structure sits just behind the main church building at 13115 S Village Drive. It opened on Feb. 25.
The pantry is a combined effort of Village Presbyterian and Messiah Lutheran. Eventually, they hope to bring other churches into the project.
"We are seeing people enter times that are becoming more and more difficult to make ends meet," said Jennifer Marts, director of youth ministry and the organizer of pantry donations at Messiah Lutheran. "Whether that is a result of unemployment, injury, sickness or rising costs, I don't know. But we want to reach out to those people in the name of Jesus."
Along with the pantry's opening, Messiah Lutheran has started offering "re-employment" seminars hosted by church member Karl Klicker.
Having survived the Enron layoffs almost a decade ago, Klicker, 53, knows firsthand about losing and regaining a job.
"People feel anger, fear, frustration," said Klicker, who is now a financial analyst. "I want them to know I went through it, and faith helped me keep steady each and every day."
The food help is limited to people living in the 33618, 33624 and 33625 ZIP codes.
"As much as we'd love to serve everyone without any limitations, logistically we can't. We don't have the food to supply that many people," Cantor said.
Donations are needed. Canned goods, boxed nonperishables, and infant and pet supplies are priorities.
To donate, call the church at (813) 961-4115.
Contact Sheryl Kay at email@example.com or (813) 230-8788.