Working Together for the Common Good

Daystar Life Center of Citrus County (Daystar) has been a partner of the Community Food Bank of Citrus County (CFBCC) since 2013. In fact, Daystar’s former executive director played an integral role in establishing the CFBCC. The organization’s current executive director, Anthony Kopka, and food pantry manager, Nancy Whittemore, continue to be active members of the CFBCC Advisory Council.

Daystar’s mission is to make a positive difference in people’s lives by providing immediate assistance for low income individuals and families throughout Citrus County. Some of the basic needs Daystar provides include food, clothing and assistance with paying rent and utilities. The organization also connects individuals with resources and opportunities to help improve their situations and put them on a path toward success.

The demand for food assistance continues to increase. In 2019, 340 – 420 households sought assistance from Daystar each month and the organization distributed 121,466 pounds of food to a total of 1,539 households. 

According to Kopka, the Daystar truck makes a stop at least once a week, sometimes more, to the CFBCC.  Picking up food at a central location makes it convenient for all.

“Having a centralized location of foods donated by local supermarkets – where every food pantry and feeding agency can go to share in the bounty – streamlines accessibility for us all,” explains Kopka. “It must certainly be better for the supermarkets as well.  They only need to deal with one entity instead of all 50 or more who seek grocery donations. Having a food bank for the entire county also benefits us all by having one entity represent all community pantries in order to leverage corporations, national or state agencies and regional networks for either better prices or for free foods.”

“Daystar has been with us since day one,” says Barbara Sprague, Executive Director of the CFBCC. “Not only do they provide much needed, comprehensive services to those in need throughout our community, but they are active in supporting and promoting what we do here at the Community Food Bank of Citrus County.”

Kopka says the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the agency because the churches, organizations, civic clubs and community groups that support Daystar have had to cancel their fundraising events.  As a result, Daystar has leaned on the CFBCC for additional assistance.

“The Community Food Bank has been especially helpful by procuring free fresh produce and other foods,” says Kopka. “We also go to the food bank every week for meat and poultry, which are difficult foods to obtain. It is also very helpful to have one hub for distribution of items needed during and after a crisis, such as bottled water after hurricanes and face masks for COVID-19.”

According to Sprague, the most successful partnerships are those where each agency works together for the common good.

“Anthony Kopka and his team are always supportive and available to help in any way they can,” explains Sprague. “We, in turn, are able to provide them with a variety of fresh, nourishing food options to distribute to the individuals and families they serve.  It’s a win-win for us all.”

“The executive director, employees and the Board of Directors of the Community Food Bank have been very accessible, responsive and helpful to the needs of Daystar Life Center, ever since the food bank was established,” concludes Kopka. “In addition to food, Daystar also provides clothing and financial aid to avert utility disconnections or to prevent evictions from rental housing for needy and low-income residents throughout Citrus County.  The food bank is like having a partner to procure food for distribution, giving Daystar staff more time to line up resources to sustain our other services that help those who are in critical need.”

If you would like to learn more about Daystar and all of the important resources and services they provide, please visit https://www.daystarcitruscounty.org/.

Charles Camden
Charles Camden, III

Charles Camden, III is a driver for the Community Food Bank of Citrus County (CFBCC). He holds a CDL and his primary duty is to cover donation pick-up routes and make deliveries. He also helps out in the warehouse when needed. Charles just recently celebrated his seven year anniversary with the agency.

Charles started at the CFBCC as a volunteer. His dedication and passion for the mission led to being offered a full-time position. He drives a large box truck by day, but during his off time you may see him riding around town on his motorcycle. In addition to riding his motorcycle, he loves to read science fiction novels and work on his bar-b-que skills in his spare time.

Charles was born and raised in Florida. Although he has visited other states, he says there is no other place he would rather live.

CFBOCC Truck
Featured Agency: Citrus County Blessings

Citrus County Blessings (a.k.a. Blessings) has been a partnering agency of the Community Food Bank of Citrus County (CFBCC) since 2013.  Blessings utilizes the CFBCC to secure non-perishable food for their weekend program as well as their summer “Feed the Kids” fresh produce program which began in 2017.

Blessings fills the gap to provide children with wholesome, nourishing meals when school lunch programs are unavailable, including on weekends and over the summer. During the 2019-2020 school year, Blessings distributed approximately 300,000 pounds of food, including 45,000 pounds of special product for holiday meal distribution (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break).  Below is a breakdown:

  • 10,100 meals were served each weekend of the school year to an average of 1685 children
  • 861 participants and 165 families participated in Feed the Kids 2020 (double the participation from the previous year)

Christina Reed is the Executive Director of Blessings. According to Reed, the CFBCC allows her agency to either purchase food at a significant discount or obtain it for free, thus allowing them to stretch their donation dollars and feed more children in need.

“The Community Food Bank of Citrus County is able to secure opportunities through Feeding Tampa Bay, the USDA and other organizations that benefit each of our programs,” explains Reed. “Just recently, the CFBCC was able to provide farm fresh produce for our summer program at no cost to us, allowing us to serve double the amount of people from the previous year. They also provide invaluable operational support for our food deliveries each month of the school year.”

Barbara Sprague, Executive Director of the CFBCC, is tasked with ensuring partner agencies are good stewards of the food and resources the food bank provides.

“Citrus County Blessings fills an important need in our community,” says Sprague.  “Many families rely on free or reduced school lunch programs to help feed their children. For some children, these are the only nourishing meals they receive. What happens on weekends and over the summer when school meal programs are unavailable?  That is where Blessings comes in.  Without Blessings, many children would go hungry.”

Reed says it would be extremely difficult to help as many children and families without the partnership and support of the CFBCC.

“The CFBCC always has our back when we have an issue with shortages, product availability, etc.,” says Reed. “I remember two years ago when the hurricane came through and made it challenging to get food to our pantries. The CFBCC worked closely with us to put a plan together to ensure we were able to get all of our product where it needed to be to serve our children.”

The partnership between the CFBCC and Blessings is a shining example of how two non-profit organizations work together to ensure much needed support, resources and food reach those in need.

“The Community Food Bank of Citrus County, it’s dedicated staff and volunteers make what we do possible,” concludes Reed. “They encompass what a food bank means to a community and the people we serve.”

A Heartwarming Word From a Blessings Family…

“Thank you. I hope every family has the decency to say that. But when I say that you make a huge difference for my family, it doesn’t express the magnitude. It’s easy to take for granted a helping hand, but when you have been through as much as my family has, you never ever take for granted the difference between starving so that your children can eat and being able to eat with them. So please believe me when I say that thank you could never be enough.”

The Citrus County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and Project America Strong recently allotted 100,000 cloth face masks to the Community Food Bank of Citrus County (CFBCC) for distribution.  The CFBCC will be sending face masks in packs of five (5) to partnering agencies throughout Citrus County for free distribution.  The masks contain copper and zinc for microbial protection and can be washed up to 15 times.

Although face masks currently are not mandated in Citrus County, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

“We are happy to distribute these cloth face masks to help ensure everyone in the community has the opportunity to protect themselves from COVID-19,” says Barbara Sprague, Executive Director of the Community Food Bank of Citrus County.  “We value our partnership with the Citrus EOC and Project America Strong and stand ready to help in any way we can.”

The CFBCC has been working non-stop since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, distributing food to provide meals to approximately 50,000 people each month through 52 partnering agencies (food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, ministries, etc.).

“The need has drastically increased,” says Mike Orlito, Board Chair. “I applaud our exemplary team of staff and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to meet the increased demand.”

Those needing a face covering can pick up a five (5) pack of face masks at any CFBCC partnering agency while supplies last.  Click here to find a food agency near you.

If you would like to help the CFBCC continue to meet the evolving needs of the local community, please click here to make a donation online or mail a check to Community Food Bank of Citrus County – 5259 W Cardinal Street Building B, Homosassa, FL 34446. 

Thank-You

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of our lives. The way we interact, conduct business and enjoy leisure activities is much different today than it was just three short months ago.

As a result of COVID-19, the Community Food Bank of Citrus County (CFBCC) went from providing meals for approximately 17,000 people each month to more than 50,000/month.

We want to take time to thank everyone, including the Citrus County Chronicle, for their ongoing and continued support during the COVID-19 crisis. So many individuals, businesses and organizations stepped up to the plate to help us address the increased demand for food assistance.

Since the onset of COVID-19 in mid-April, the CFBCC has:

• Provided 1,680,000 meals through our 52 partnering agencies (food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, ministries, etc.)
• Experienced a 278% increase in miles on our trucks that pick up and deliver food.
• Raised more than $250,000 to help meet the increased demand.

It’s challenging for any non-profit to meet their annual fundraising goals. It is especially difficult to raise additional funds during a time of crisis. However, we have been able to meet the needs of the community solely because of the generous support we have received from our partners and friends. Some of these supporters include:

Bad Golfers Association of Citrus Hills
Black Diamond Foundation
Citrus County Sams Chapter 176
Community Foundation of Tampa Bay
Crystal River Rotary
Enterprise Holdings Foundation
Gulf to Lakes Pilot Club of Citrus County
Homosassa Lions Foundation
Kings Bay Rotary
Kiwanis Club of Inverness
Network for Good
Rays Baseball Foundation and Rowdies Soccer Fund
Rotary Club of Sugarmill Woods
Sam’s Club
SECO Energy
Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church
Suncoast Credit Union
The Amanda Foundation
The Andrews Group
WaWa
Walmart Homosassa
YourCause

We will continue to push forward and keep the food agencies we serve fully stocked. The continued support of the community is appreciated as we continue to navigate these difficult and uncertain times. Together, we are making a difference!

Sincerely,

Mike Orlito
Board Chair, Community Food Bank of Citrus County

Board of Directors:
Steve Ponticos
Ed Gruber
Steven R. Hildson
Sean Barnes
Bart Bennett
Joseph Cappuccilli
Johnny Cash
Bev Goethe
John JJ Kenney
Jewel Lamb
Naomi Prendergast

Barbara Sprague, Executive Director

The Faces of Hunger

By Barbara Sprague
Executive Director

Food banks often only work behind the scenes to ensure those agencies who serve the public directly are well supplied with nutritious foods. Much like a distribution center for a supermarket, we deal with semi-truck loads of food by the pallet, but rarely do we have an opportunity to meet the thousands of neighbors in need that we ultimately serve.

Until Michael called. Living many states away and with a growing concern for his sister who lives locally, Michael phoned the area food bank for some guidance and happened to connect to me. As we spoke, I learned that his sister Ruth has suffered through a terrible marriage full of domestic violence. With a divorce, no financial support, a home to care for and a severe depression setting in, Ruth had become distant, withdrawn, unable to eat and on the verge of becoming homeless. Poor Michael was beside himself as the COVID-19 pandemic had closed him off from any opportunity to visit her and care for his stricken sister.

Although we deal with pallets and pounds, we are also here to provide to those in need and Ruth was certainly no exception. I explained to Michael how our network of pantries, soup kitchens and shelters function on the front line while we help to flow food in mass amounts through them. With the pandemic spiking needy clients by 300-400% and Ruth’s fragile state, I knew an emergency intervention was needed. Armed with a box of assorted fruit, vegetables, prepared meals and a salvaged bouquet of flowers, I took down her address and headed to see Ruth.

Tucked away on a quiet street in a lovely subdivision was a forlorn house. Ruth took a few minutes to answer, but eventually opened the door and graciously accepted my box of food. As we chatted, I encouraged Ruth to partake of the list of our agencies who locally distribute food and other assistance. She explained that she had started to investigate some programs to help her get back on her feet, but the tags on her car had expired, she had run out of money, had no source of income and was pretty frankly embarrassed by the path life had taken her on. She felt so ashamed she couldn’t face her family, friends or even neighbors.

It struck me hard that this lovely lady had weathered a storm but was left so beaten down that her body had recovered, but her spirit just couldn’t. I knew our agencies and believed wholeheartedly that one of them would embrace Ruth and be able to offer much more than a meal.

“Of course I will! I’ll go over and see her today.” Ms. Lorraine Adams manages the food pantry and Celebrate Recovery meals for the Lifetree Center, but also has the compassion and strength to be a solid shoulder for those in need of emotional support. I had a feeling she was just the right person Ruth needed in her life.

Just an hour later Lorraine checked back in with me. “She was apprehensive, but we chatted and made a date to go to lunch.” What? My heart sang! Lorraine made several more visits and quickly convinced Ruth to step back into the world with her right by her side. “I’ve got this,” she told me. Ruth has been through an awful lot, but these are exactly the people we want to reach and help.

The good reports kept coming. With Lorraine’s help, Ruth has started taking care of herself, has gotten her car back on the road, has started applying for jobs and is planning her future with the possibility of roommates, “like the Golden Girls”. This is what a community support system is all about. Organizations connecting each other to the people who truly need them so that our community prospers person, by person.

“We can’t thank you enough for everything you have done to help our family,” said Michael. I told him how much I appreciated his kind words, but that it was not only my pleasure to help make connections for Ruth, but the reason why we exist. We do not just feed to end hunger, but we nourish hope as well.

$50,000 Challenge Match Met and Exceeded

Community Food Bank of Citrus County Continues to Raise Funds to Provide Food Assistance During COVID-19 Crisis

In May 2020, Suncoast Credit Union donated $50,000 toward the Community Food Bank of Citrus County’s (CFBCC) COVID-19 relief efforts and encouraged the community to match their donation. The numbers are in and we are proud to announce that the match challenge raised a total of $182,786.

The challenge was exceeded thanks to an anonymous $50,000 donor and numerous other individuals who stepped up to the plate to make contributions.

“Since COVID-19, the need for food assistance has significantly escalated,” explains Barbara Sprague, Executive Director of CFBCC. “The CFBCC is so grateful to everyone in the community who has come together to help us help families in need.  We could not do what we do without the support of corporate and individual donors and volunteers who continue to help us fulfill our mission.”

The original $50,000 from Suncoast Credit Union provided 400,000 meals.  The matching contributions provided an additional 1,062,288 meals.  In total, the campaign initiated by Suncoast Credit Union allowed the CFBCC to provide 1,462,288 meals to local families in need.

According to Sprague, prior to COVID-19, the CFBCC distributed food to provide meals to approximately 17,000 people each month through 52 partnering agencies (food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, ministries, etc.) Since the onset of COVID-19, that number has increased to more than 50,000 people being served each month.

“I’ve served on the Board of Directors for the CFBCC for seven years and we have never faced such a sharp increase in demand for food,” says Mike Orlito, Board Chair. “We have been able to meet that demand thanks to the support and generosity of the community.”

If you would like to help the CFBCC continue to meet the growing need for food assistance, please click here to donate online or mail a check to Community Food Bank of Citrus County – 5259 W Cardinal Street Building B, Homosassa, FL 34446. 

Meet Bethany!

Bethany Wilcox

Warehouse Food Sorter

Bethany Wilcox has been volunteering at the Community Food Bank of Citrus County (CFBCC) for more than a year.  Bethany serves as a warehouse food sorter, helping make sure the food is prepped and ready to distribute to the 53 food pantries, ministries, shelters and soup kitchens we serve.

When she is not volunteering at the CFBCC, Bethany takes classes online and loves to draw and read in her spare time.  One interesting fact about Bethany is that she has actually been bitten by a snake!  Fortunately, that has not kept her from adopting several unique and interesting pets.  She has a dog named Jasper, a beta fish and four lizards – Berry (a bearded dragon), Killer (a tokay gecko), and Curry and Squirt (leopard geckos.)

Bethany loves what she does and is passionate about helping the community.  We are fortunate to have such a dedicated young volunteer committed to helping us fulfill our mission.  Thank you, Bethany!

The Bad Golfers Association (BGA) of Citrus Hills recently held a charity golf tournament and raised $2331 to benefit the Community Food Bank of Citrus County. The BGA consists of approximately 40 golfers who get together twice a week and enjoy a round of golf and fellowship. This “Bad But Proud” group was founded by avid golfers whose love for the game far exceeds their ability to play it, and they aren’t afraid to admit it!

“We realize that there is a real need for families that are unemployed to feed their families. Without your help there would be many families in Citrus County who would go hungry. Our members recognize the good work you and your volunteers do for so many in need. Thank you for all you do.” Len Ciriello, BGA

Special thank you to the BGA for their generous support.  We could not do what we do without you!

We are proud to announce that the Community Food Bank of Citrus County was selected to receive a COVID-19 Relief Grant in the amount of $5,000 from the Rays Baseball Foundation and Rowdies Soccer Fund. These funds will help us meet the increasing local need as a result of COVID-19. We are committed to keeping the 53 food pantries, shelters, ministries and soup kitchens we serve stocked as more and more families seek food assistance.

We would like to extend a special “thank you” to the Rays Baseball Foundation and Rowdies Soccer Fund for your generous support in helping us continue to fulfill our mission of ending hunger and nourishing hope!