RUSKIN – It’s been a tough year financially for Ruskin resident Hazael Perez.
A remodeling contractor by trade, Perez said business is down and every week it’s a struggle to feed his six children.
“And it’s only going to get tougher,” said Perez, gesturing toward his wife’s swollen belly. “We have a seventh child due on Dec. 24.”
However, the Perez family didn’t have to worry about what to eat on Thanksgiving. Thanks to the Community Cupboard, a mission of Calvary Lutheran Evangelical Church in Ruskin, the family received a bag full of groceries and a gift certificate for a turkey.
“We’re very grateful to the Community Cupboard,” he said. “Without this food, I’m not sure what we would have done for Thanksgiving.”
For the eighth year, Community Cupboard hosted its Thanks for Giving program, providing Thanksgiving meals to more than 600 low-income families in the area. Residents began lining up for the giveaway an hour before the Nov. 26 event began.
Diane Boyd, operations manager for cupboard, said the 1,100-member congregation anticipated a record need this year. For weeks before the giveaway, members donated cranberry sauce, stuffing, yams, rice, cereal, cookies, beans and vegetables, along with cash to purchase the gift cards for turkeys.
“Everyone was very generous this year,” said Boyd, noting that the Thanks for Giving program served more than 500 families last year. “We had plenty of food to go around.”
First-time Thanks for Giving volunteer Betty Kelly said she was overwhelmed by the need in the community.
“It’s been so eye-opening to see all of these people who need help,” she said. “Hunger is a serious problem here. It brings tears to my eyes to see all of the children so excited about something we take for granted.”
Among the children on hand for the giveaway was teenager Jason Gonzalez with his little brother and sister, Marianita and Jayden, in tow.
Speaking on behalf of his mother, Isidra Perez, who cannot speak English, Gonzalez said the family would have no Thanksgiving meal without the Thanks for Giving program.
“Last year we couldn’t buy any food,” he said. “This year we’re going to have a feast.”
Another resident who asked not to be identified said she has depended on the Thanks for Giving program since it began.
“It’s been hard,” said the resident, who works as a seasonal farm worker and has five members in her family. “I wonder week from week how we’re going to get food. But I always know we’ll have a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s such a blessing.”
As they have every year, cupboard volunteers Dee Benner and her husband, Jim, were on hand to offer residents a smile and a blessing along with a bag of groceries.
“It’s so satisfying to be able to help those in need,” she said. “It just lifts my heart. And the people are so appreciative.”
Volunteer Roger Fick agreed, watching youngsters eagerly snatch a box of Cheerios from their grocery bag.
“These could be my grandkids,” he said. “Any of our kids could lose a job or have other financial problems and be in this position.”
The Community Cupboard food pantry, 1424 E. College Ave., Ruskin, has been in operation for 20 years, providing food to more than 20,000 residents in need each year. The cupboard is open year round on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.
For more information, visit www.calvarylutheranchurch.net/CommunityCupboard or call (813) 645-1305.
D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]