BROOKSVILLE — It was the first sermon of 2017 at Grace World Outreach Church when Sue Bailey heard her pastor, David Garcia, talk about visions.
"He preached about a huge vision and said we should ‘stay the course’ and not let Satan distract us," Bailey said.
For Bailey, it was an affirmation to begin a ministry to help feed the hungry. She believed God had told her to start the ministry just two days earlier.
"God literally gave me a ‘download’ into my head," Bailey said.
Bailey began by teaching classes at the church on how to can and dehydrate foods. She’d already traveled to Citrus County to pick up food made available by a Homestead-based charity called Farm Share.
Farm Share, Bailey learned, distributes fresh food donated by farmers that they otherwise may have thrown away. The food is given to food banks, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and churches.
Established in 1991, Food Share partners with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which provides warehouse facilities, support staff, equipment, services and state oversight. In addition, the Florida Department of Corrections provides inmates and corrections officers for sorting, packing and distributing donated food.
According to its website, Farm Share distributes more than 15 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each year to participating agencies throughout the eastern part of the country.
Bailey didn’t know how it was all going to work, but she wanted Farm Share to bring food directly to Grace World Outreach that could be distributed to the hungry in the community. Ten months later, her vision became a reality. The church received its first truckload of food Oct. 10.
Along with food, other items occasionally come on the trucks, including furniture. Sometimes there are frozen foods. Often there are pallets of boxes packed with meals to send home with school children who don’t have food for the weekend.
Pastor Jesse Wilson, who directs the children’s ministry at the church, is excited about the program. He recently helped distribute food to children and parents attending an event at Moton Elementary School.
"We had a table set up for Farm Share, and we handed out hundreds of bags of food," Wilson said. He has contacted other schools about the program, as well.
"I love this ministry," he said. "We’re getting in the semis filled with food and sharing it, and it enables us to touch our community in a tangible way."
"It’s been phenomenal," Bailey said. "We try to receive a truck at least once a week. Sometimes it’s three times a week."
A group of volunteers helps Bailey notify people signed up to receive food, as well as several ministries and organizations, when a truck is scheduled to arrive.
A recent truckload with about 20,000 pounds of food was unloaded and distributed in about five hours to ministries including Jericho Road, Joseph’s House and St. Vincent de Paul, and organizations such as We Care at Serenity, along with about 300 individuals.
To get it done takes lots of volunteers, and Bailey said they can use more.
"People who would like to volunteer can contact the church," she said. "We send out a call or text, so they know what time to come if they’re available. We also put it on the church’s Facebook page, and it’s on the digital sign by the church."
Individuals who wish to receive food need only fill out a form provided by Farm Share.
"They don’t have to arrive with anything but that information," Bailey said. They leave their name, address, number of people in their household and income range. "They just sign the paper, and they’re able to pick up."
Bailey said she is blessed to have followed God’s leading. Her church’s food share program has reached the hungry in Hernando and Pasco counties and as far away as Tampa.
"People are hungry, and the number of children that are going hungry on the weekends and every day is just ridiculous," she said. "God needed to take me into the food realm, and I’ve seen people’s lives totally changed. It’s been an incredible journey."