By Kathleen Rogers

With dark clouds looming and a rescheduled event date due to Hurricane Irma, the ECHO staff and dedicated volunteers were getting ready for the 30 year celebration of ECHO. Clouds or no clouds, this event was going to happen. Thirty years ago this organization started out as a food pantry.

Today, it is a growing nonprofit organization providing food, clothing, and life-stabilizing resources to Eastern Hillsborough County residents. On Thursday, October 5 at 5:30 p.m. at the N. Parsons Ave. location, ECHO invited the community to go on excursions (tours) to have the ECHO experience and learn more about what’s next for ECHO.

Mark Gaudio, Board Member of ECHO welcomed the community and Sue Burkett, Honorary Mayor of Brandon, sporting her official Mayor sash announced October 5 as ECHO Day in Brandon. Gaudio acknowledged Vince Ferraro for volunteering his accounting expertise to ECHO for more than thirty years. Gaudio stated, “Ferraro’s direction helped ensure that the money went to the people who need it.” When receiving his award, Ferraro stated that he found it very fulfilling to see people ECHO has helped.

Eleanor Saunders, Executive Director for ECHO spoke of how the mission never changes, neighbors helping neighbors. Saunders noted that ECHO has identified that 25% of residents needing assistance are coming from southern Hillsborough County. She announced they are addressing this need with a second location. She shared, “This location will provide emergency food and clothing initially. It will be accessible to those in need via bus and there are plans for expansion.”

Bill Goede, Tampa Bay Market President for Bank of America followed ECHO’s second location announcement with exciting news. In honor of ECHO’s 30th Anniversary, Bank of America released early that ECHO had earned the Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders grant. Saunders and the ECHO staff were presented with a check from Bank of America for $200,000. Goede stated, “ECHO meets the critical needs of the community well. We want to support their mission and efforts into South Hillsborough County. Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders Grant gives organizations flexible funding to think outside the box.”

ECHO’s goal is to end hunger in eastern Hillsborough County. Since 1987, ECHO has provided immediate hunger relief to over 200,000 residents. On average, ECHO serves 300 local families a month. Michele Pruitt, Director of Development for ECHO shared that ECHO helps residents in crisis to be able to catch their breath. To provide a much needed moment of relief, ECHO gives residents 12 outfits and 20 pounds of food for each member of the family. Once residents have the essentials, Pruitt stated “They can think about what’s next, they can begin to bridge, take GED classes to be able to take care of themselves.” Pruitt shared that the ECHO process is all about empowerment. It serves as both crisis relief and then a launching point to self-sufficiency.

As part of ECHO’s 30 year celebration, it has embraced a new tagline ‘I’M ECHO.’ This mantra was crafted by one of the many dedicated volunteers of ECHO. From mending and meticulously organizing the clothes to stocking the canned and fresh bake goods in the pantry, these volunteers are giving back in a big way. Some of the volunteers once needed ECHO’s services and understand the need for this neighborhood support system. Bill Goede of Bank of America commented that in the Neighborhood Builders Grant selection process, the volunteers were the difference.

With now two locations on the horizon to operate, ECHO needs the community’s continued support. Please go to their website or call 685-0935 to find out how to help this vital organization by volunteering, making much needed donations, or through financial assistance. Rest assured that nothing goes to waste at ECHO and the community’s support is what has driven ECHO forward for 30 years and will continue into the future.

ECHO is open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and Tuesday evenings 5-7 p.m. ECHO services are provided at 507 N. Parsons Ave.

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