By Michelle Colesanti
Nine year old Edwin Font’s home life in Palatka, Florida was not the best, yet he was more concerned about the homeless he saw in his neighborhood. Not wanting them to go hungry, he started preparing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The program Edwin’s Happy Bags was started. It wasn’t long before he received donations from several private citizens and the city of Palatka. Robert (Bob) Blair, a member of the Brandon Elks’ Lodge #2383, and his wife Elisa spent time with Edwin and were so taken with his project, they brought the idea to the Brandon Elks and Bags of Brotherly Love was created.
Joyce Dominick Schaefer, Grants Coordinator, was tasked with writing a proposal for funds to finance the program. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office along with Josh Boyer, Hillsborough County Homeless Coordinator, got involved, along with several businesses in the area, who agreed to help with on-going aid to the program.
Along with other private donations, the Brandon Lodge and Brandon Ladies of Elks also donated over $1,000.
Blair knows firsthand what it is to be hungry. “I, too, was one of the unfortunates 35 years ago. I had a job that wasn’t paying much, and a car, but no home. I could not afford the expense, so I lived in my car for six months until one day a fellow employee got wind of my situation and offered me a room in his home. That was the lift I needed to help get me back on track in life.” He wants to incorporate more than just food and nourishment into the bags, adding, “We have volunteers who wish to donate clothing and other hygiene products to help bring a little more dignity back into their lives.”
Over 400 homeless men, woman and children, including veterans, live in the immediate area. Bags of Brotherly Love will be distributed to the homeless by the Elk volunteers on a monthly basis bringing bags, conversation, and information on where help is available for both physical and mental needs, and most of all a smile and spirit to show that “Elks Care Elks Share”.
Blair would love to see this go statewide for the Elks. “There is a lot that we can do, and a lot that still needs to be done to help the plight of the homeless. Working hand in hand with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office Community Outreach Organization and the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County has been a great experience and help,” he said.
For more info call Brandon Elks Lodge at 685-6469.