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400 Pasco families receive food boxes

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HOLIDAY — Tuesday, 800 needy families in Pasco and Hillsborough counties received food, bottled water and personal care items from “Feed the Children,” in partnership with Metropolitan Ministries and several local organizations and churches.

This was the first time in two years that boxes were distributed from the West Pasco Metropolitan Ministries location at 3244 U.S. 19, Holiday, said Jim Alexander, digital marketing manager for Metropolitan Ministries. The event is held a couple times a year at the North Florida Avenue location in Tampa.

“Pasco has one of the highest per capita rates of homeless and everything that goes along with that,” Alexander said.

What people don’t often realize, he said, is that many of the families who signed up for food boxes are strangers to welfare. Countless numbers of individuals in the community have fallen on hard times because of the recession, losing jobs and houses and then selling off personal assets to pay basic bills.

Asking for assistance is a last resort for many of them.

“We’ve seen the need [for these events] rise 30 or 40 percent in the past year alone,” Alexander said. “The need is always greater than the supply but the good news is we have partners all around the county.”

Mothers pushed infants and young children in strollers sometimes miles to make it our for their much-needed supplies. Many slung backpacks over one shoulder to take the items back with them or stuffed canned vegetables and soup underneath the strollers. Others rode their bicycles to pick up items.

Some pulled up in cars and stayed inside while volunteers loaded the goods into their backseat then quickly drove away.

“You see a lot of embarrassment,” Alexander said. “The profile of families who need help has changed over the past four to five years. This is brand new to them. They’ve used up all their resources and they’re shocked that they’re here.”

Volunteers hauled several hundred boxes filled with items like soup and instant mashed potatoes, as well as toilet paper and shampoo, out of a large “Feed the Children” semi-truck and stacked them for easy access for the families. The Rev. Michael Kirk, executive pastor of Next Level Church, even brought his daughters to help ready boxes.

“This area is struggling with homelessness, drug addiction and lack of resources,” Kirk said. “This ministry is taking a sting at all three.”

Other volunteers had to keep their emotions in check as families collected their boxes.

“It tugs at your heartstrings,” said Laurie Clauser, a volunteer from Keystone Community Church. “All these women with their babies in strollers ... that’s why we opened some of the boxes, so they could put them into backpacks.”

In addition to events like this, the Pasco branch of Metropolitan Ministries participates in food drives, philanthropic golf tournaments, fundraising races and more. The branch is building a new kitchen on site that should open on Easter Sunday, April 20 to make and distribute food to families in the community.

For more information visit http://www.metromin.org/

You can follow Daylina Miller on Twitter @DaylinaMiller

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