Rotarian Debbie Meegan’s grandchildren (left to right), Savanna, Blake and Matthew, donate food to the Rotary Club of Brandon’s ECHO food drive in April.

By Linda Chion Kenney

Unprecedented need and just-in-time miracles mark the work of the 33-year-old Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO) in Brandon and Riverview, as the wave of people continues to grow in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown.

ECHO in April, collectively at both its Brandon and Riverview locations, served 3,168 individuals, a dramatic increase from the year before, when it served 767 people the entire month. In March, the numbers were 1,204 and 604, respectively.

While COVID-19 is a major factor in the 319 percent increase in demand, it also accounts for the cancellation of ECHO’s major annual fundraiser (Empower ECHO Breakfast) and the two major food drives it depends on annually, Feeding the Bay and the Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger® Food Drive.

“The giving of the community, it’s just miracles in the making,” McKinnon said. “Miracles keep happening and it enables us to help our neighbors.”

To further illustrate the need, McKinnon said this year through April, ECHO served 13,352 individuals, with the majority of the increase occurring in a six-week period when service days were cut from five to two because of the coronavirus pandemic. In contrast, ECHO in its latest full-year report served 10,452 individuals.

Stepping up to help are houses of worship, service clubs, businesses, individuals, nonprofits and families, McKinnon said, “including the Steele family, which drove up with 365 pounds of food collected by their 8-year-old son in their Triple Creek neighborhood.”

The list of Good Samaritans includes BSAC, Centerpoint Church, The Crossing Church, Next Level Church, The Mission Continues, the Rotary Club of FishHawk-Riverview and the Rotary Club of Brandon.

During the coronavirus shutdown, ECHO is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, both for food donations and distributions, in Riverview at 7807 Capitano St. and in Brandon at 507 N. Parsons Ave.

As for food, ECHO is in need of such things as baking items, canned fruits, cereals, condiments, vegetables, beans and meats, as well as dry pasta and rice. Jelly is a big need, McKinnon added, to go along with peanut butter.

Bread with a short shelf life is picked up daily from Costco, Publix and Sprouts.

For updates and more, visit www.echofl.org. Call for Brandon at 685-0935 and for Riverview at 540-9880.