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Family vows to help keep agency's pantry full

Jamia Austin set off a domino effect when she addressed members of Chapel by the Sea a few weeks ago.

The director of the Religion Community Services Food Pantry described how the facility has run low on food and donations. More people were going hungry, and no one was filling the gap.

Sitting in the church was a family of four. They were so moved by Austin's talk that on the ride home to Clearwater Beach, they decided they would do something.

Days later, Dr. Thomas Sultenfuss, his wife, Sherry, and their daughters, Katherine and Margo, went to RCS to pitch a novel idea:

Using a list provided by Sultenfuss, a Dunedin dermatologist, Katherine and Margo would send out fliers to 500 physicians next week and ask them to donate money that would have been spent on wine, fruit baskets and gift certificates for colleagues and friends to help feed the hungry.

Austin quickly accepted.

"They are an inspiration," she said of Katherine, 14, and Margo, 11. "I'm really impressed, especially since it was their idea."

The help comes at an excellent time for the agency, which is experiencing a higher demand for food and a reduction in donations.

In October 2000, for example, the food pantry helped nearly 2,000 people. In the same month this year _ in the wake of an economic downturn and the Sept. 11 attacks _ it served more than 4,000. The pantry cut back on the food placed in packages for families and individuals.

And donations have suffered. The annual Boy Scout food drive collected 2,500 pounds of food this year _ down from 6,000 pounds last year.

The Sultenfuss sisters have decided to limit their solicitations to north Pinellas, but they will accept donations from any business.

"People are more inclined to help their own local area," Katherine said.

There wasn't any doubt that the family would succeed in their plans after their visit to the food pantry. Katherine and Margo said they felt an enormous sense of sadness.

"It was just amazing to see what some people have to go through," Katherine said.

Margo was shocked when she saw a man and a child sifting through a Dumpster outside. "I didn't know what they were doing, actually," the 11-year-old said.

The sisters are learning that it takes a lot of work to feed people.

Margo wrote a news release and sent it to 17 media outlets to spread word of their plans, and Katherine designed a colorful flier and gift cards. They have enlisted the help of Kinkos, which is underwriting the cost of the fliers. Their mother is a consultant on the project, while their father has provided a list of doctors and is helping with marketing. The family is looking for someone who will help with postage costs.

The youngsters want to raise at least $500, which would provide 25 families of four with enough dry and canned goods for three days.

They are well on their way to reaching their goal.

Two doctors at Bardmoor and Cornerstone cancer centers plan to buy 25 of the $10 cards.

"I believe in helping out others because someday you may need help yourself," said the centers' director, Walter DeFord.

That purchase will put the campaign at the halfway mark, meaning the youngsters may be in for a lot of work.

They say they are ready.

"There might be a lot of people, and we might need to print a ton of cards," Margo said. If that happens, Katherine and Margo will implement Plan B and ask their friends for help.

To help

Want to help? Send checks made payable to the RCS Food Pantry, c/o The Gift of Food, Dr. Thomas Sultenfuss, 1022 Main St., Suite R, Dunedin, FL 34698. Or call 446-3266.