Helping the Hungry in Hernando County
— Story and photos by Dick Wantuch, a passionate and diligent St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry Board member and a true NatureCoaster.
Feeding the hungry has been an ongoing challenge for charitable institutions and government agencies throughout history.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society Food Pantry is the largest charitable food pantry of its kind in Hernando County. Annual growth rates in recent years are 6% – 8%. Sadly, demographics predict that these rates will only continue to grow.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society is a faith-based independent charitable institution that traces its beginnings to 1833 in Paris, France; now the International Headquarters. The year 1845 saw the founding of the Society in the USA in St. Louis, Missouri, where its American Headquarters still reside.
The primary focus of the Society has always been to help the poor and needy without discrimination. The St. Vincent de Paul Society is a worldwide organization with nearly one million members in over 160 countries.
A Thrift Store & Food Pantry were started to serve Hernando and Citrus Counties
Seven individuals founded the St. Vincent De Paul Society’s Thrift Store on Kass Circle in 1999, and the Food Pantry followed in 2001.
These two entities along, with three satellite Conferences, form a District. Over the years, new Conferences were absorbed into the District to its present total of seven.
The Thrift Store sales provide cash assistance to the Food Pantry for operating expenses and bulk food purchases. Stipends to the Conferences are used for aiding the needy as well.
All that has been done by the Society in this District over the years, accomplished with 99% volunteers.
Going back to that first year, 2001, thirty families were offered food assistance. Since then, the St. Vincent De Paul Society Food Pantry on Kass Circle in Spring Hill has grown continuously.
1.2 million pounds of food to help 22,000 families
Today, many young families and seniors on fixed incomes find it difficult to make ends meet. The Pantry is there to help six days per week. This past fiscal year over 22,000 family calls for food assistance were answered with 1.2 million pounds of food provided.
Such growth is attributed to the countless generous donors, volunteer hours, and cooperative interaction of government agencies and private businesses. While the Society’s Food Pantry does much to feed the hungry in Hernando, it also provides limited assistance for families in both Pasco and Citrus counties.
Volunteers Make St. Vincent De Paul’s Food Pantry Run
The pantry runs on help from sixty volunteers during a month – or eight or nine on a given day. The only paid people are truck drivers as this is required by insurance.
The size of the present St. Vincent DePaul food pantry facility is stressed for storage space and this is hampering the provision of the necessary services for the area.
A New Building will help meet Today’s Needs
Plans are underway to build a larger, separate pantry building on adjacent property owned by the District. The new building will provide more than twice the needed space to store food, improve family servicing capability, and offer help to other county agencies during emergencies.
The new building is substantially funded internally, and separate from ongoing expenses.
“Assistance from generous individuals and businesses is being sought to help complete the building project. The remaining funds will be derived from a $250,000 gift campaign, just underway, reaching out to our community at large,” explains Dick Wantuck, SVDP Board member.
St. Vincent De Paul’s Food Pantry Helps Hernando County’s Hungry
The new pantry will allow the St. Vincent DePaul volunteers to help 5,000 people monthly by doubling the current pantry’s storage space.
Generous donations will help to make the new Food Pantry a reality. For those who wish to donate to the pantry’s expansion fund, make checks payable to St. Vincent de Paul, marked for “Pantry Building,” and mail to 1291 Kass Circle in Spring Hill, FL 34606.
St. Vincent de Paul is a 501(c)3 charitable entity and donations can be tax-deductible.