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Local Food Banks See More Patrons

Published:   |   Updated: May 8, 2013 at 11:54 AM

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Friday morning, the crowd started trickling into the food pantry at Dayspring Presbyterian Church in Spring Hill.

A man, woman and hungry-looking child were the first, relief crossing their faces as they saw the tableful of bagged fresh bread.

"I'm just coming in for some help," said another woman, entering the door hesitantly.

"The only thing we can help you with is food," said organizer Sherry Clark, smiling kindly.

The woman knew. That's precisely why she was there.

It was a typical scene at one of the area's food pantries, which have seen record numbers of hungry residents in recent months due to a worsening economy and skyrocketing unemployment rate.

"I think every food bank is low," said Clark's husband, Dick Clark.

Hernando County boasts at least 15 food banks at local churches and nonprofit locations, most of which are open set times during the week. Volunteers collect leftover food from local grocery stores and bakeries, then offer residents the chance to pick up what they need to feed their families.

At the food pantry at First Baptist Church of Brooksville, volunteer Christine Whatley said the amount of money spent on food has more than doubled in the past year.

"We spent $900 for food alone in the past week - and we're only open three (mornings) a week," she said. "We've had a lot of people coming in for food and clothes. It seems like the need increases every week."

The pantry uses monetary donations from the church and other churches to buy food each week, and also keeps a supply of donated clothing for residents. Whatley, who runs the operation, said the need has become so great in Brooksville that volunteers have recently had to start limiting food for residents on the west side of the county and directing them to other food banks in Spring Hill.

"We see a variety of people," she said. "Some can't meet their higher mortgage rates, have been laid off because of the economy or are just normal people who don't receive enough to live on."

The Dayspring pantry salvages leftover baked goods from local Publix and Panera Bread locations, and also keeps a large closetful of donated canned goods from food drives and individual donations.

While the Dayspring panty typically also stocks up on canned goods from the U.S Postal Service's food drive, the harvest from this year's drive was lower than they've ever seen, volunteers said.

"People who would normally give are unemployed," Dick Clark said.

The Clarks - Spring Hill residents who have operated the pantry since 2001 - estimated that the boom of hungry residents began earlier this summer, with numbers spiking in June and July.

Last year, the pantry's staff served 355 families for the entire year.

So far this year, they have served 481. As of Friday morning, they had served 73 families in August alone.

"We've surpassed last year, and we've still got more than four months to go," Sherry Clark said.

The church's pastor, Rev. Robert Barnes, said many of the pantry's patrons are local residents who work in the housing industry and may have one well-paying, short-term job, then not work for the next six months.

Other common patrons are retirees surviving on their monthly Social Security checks, residents with disabilities and parents who recently found themselves unemployed, forcing them to find creative ways of feeding their families.

"It's everybody," said Spring Hill volunteer Georgiana Webster.

Barnes said pantry volunteers are in the process of starting an outreach program with local schools, particularly those that are nearby, to help local students' families in need and also collect food donations from students whose families can afford to give.

"It doesn't make sense for people to be driving all over the county for small amounts of food," he said.

Other area pantry locations include: First United Methodist Church of Brooksville, First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill, Gulf Ridge Park Baptist Church, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Daystar Life Center, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Northcliffe Baptist Church, Calvary Church of the Nazarene, Christian Fellowship Church, Eden Baptist Church, St. Vincent DePaul and the Salvation Army in Brooksville.

Hours and availability vary by location.

Reporter Linnea Brown can be reached at 352-544-5289 or

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