By Kathy L Collins
As the Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO) of Brandon celebrates 25 years of serving the greater Brandon community, another milestone was celebrated recently with the grand opening of its Client Center.
“This Client Center has been a dream for many years. It took three years of hard work to make it a reality,” said Stacey Efaw, ECHO’s Executive Director. Lori Libhart, President of the ECHO Board of Directors said, “It’s exciting to see a vision become a reality.”
ECHO provides food and clothing assistance to residents of the greater Brandon area who have suffered an emergency. As the economy sagged over the last few years, more and more people were coming to ECHO for help. Efaw saw this need and for three years worked to make the Client Center a reality.
According to Efaw, “The main reasons that people come to ECHO is lack of food and unemployment. While we have traditionally given them food and clothing, we have not been able to help with the underlying causes.” The State of Florida requires that application for assistance be done online. Clients can use a bank of computers to electronically apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Medicaid, Healthy Kids Insurance and the Temporary Cash Assistance Program.
Clients can also use the computers to search for jobs and submit applications and resumes online. The computers were donated by Dr. Chris Russell of Studio Eyes in Valrico and First Baptist Church of Brandon.
The Client Center is housed in its old storage area. ECHO now stores their food at Feeding America and brings pallets in as needed,
The former storage area was renovated as a result of a $15,000.00 donation from Refurbished Office Products that ECHO won as a result of an office makeover contest. Alleghany Franciscan Ministries, a Catholic charity, also gave a grant of $10,000.00 which was used for renovation expenses.
The Client Center now offers clients something they never had before- privacy. Clients can be seen by specially trained volunteers and Hillsborough Community College interns who can help steer them toward programs that will help them get out of the emergency that brought them to ECHO. They can also get access to classes such as Healthy Living Classes which are taught at ECHO thanks to a grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
ECHO is located at 507 N. Parsons Ave. in Brandon. For more information and to see how you can help, please visit www.echofl.org.