ODESSA – Commerce returned to a shuttered department store at State Road 54 near the Suncoast Parkway Thursday when a former Super Target became home to an inventory of bottled water, non-perishable food, clothing and toiletries donated by the public.
"They just showed up. It's amazing,'' said Erik Breitenbach, assistant county administrator.
The shopping center owner donated the space to be used as a staging area for the Florida National Guard, out-of-state ambulance crews and utility workers sent to Pasco for Hurricane Irma. After social media posts about a need for donated items, the public responded. Thursday afternoon, a convoy of 10 vehicles from Wesley Chapel Nissan delivered food and clothing collected by the car dealer and the Wesley Chapel Rotary Club.
Dealership owner Jay Rosario said some of his employees were without power, but still wanted to assist.
"They see the benefit of giving to people worse off than they are,'' he said.
Plenty of others pitched in, too, including Elaine Ziska, 52 of Odessa. She and her two children Emma, 17, and John, 15, donated razors, shampoo, toothbrushes and snacks and then volunteered to stay when they realized county staffers needed help separating and organizing the donations.
Gwen Long, 55, of Land O' Lakes, has lived in Florida for 11 years, but Irma was her initial first-hand experience with a hurricane. She brought a case of bottled water to the site after reading an Internet posting about the donations.
"I just wanted to give back. I've very grateful,'' she said.
By mid-afternoon, the former store contained 11 pallets of donated water, plus food, soda, pet food and household items waiting to be stacked. Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore said the donated goods were expected to be distributed to needy people who had registered with the county's human services department.
The store has been vacant since Target closed it in January 2016, one of a dozen stores it shut down nationally because of falling sales.