For several years now, Our Lady’s Pantry has had two trucks on the road picking up food from all over the county almost every day of the week. These trucks are essential to the pantry’s work, according to pantry director Tom Bullaro. Regrettably, the trucks were old, with a total of 420,000 miles on them, and expensive to maintain. The 2006 truck had been on the road for 280,000 miles.
“But now, thanks to a surprising gift from a former volunteer — plus a huge community effort piggybacking on this gift — we have finally replaced our old truck,” said Bullaro, pointing to the brand-new 2023 Isuzu refrigerated truck sitting in the pantry’s parking lot.
“Not only will this truck not require continuous costly maintenance to keep it on the road weekly, but it is safer and easier to drive,” said Bullaro.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Feeding Tampa Bay both require that food being transported from place to place must be refrigerated to keep it safe. This is why replacing the old 16 ft. refrigerated truck with a newer-model truck cost so much.
In hopes that the pantry might initiate a fund specifically to save for a replacement truck, Bullaro placed a request within a news story in local newspapers last year.
“In fact, the story inspired a tremendous response from dozens of individuals and several groups sending in both small and large donations solely to fund a replacement truck,” Bullaro said. He added that the pantry never uses money donated for food for any purpose other than food.
“Regrettably, the dollars for the truck didn’t come close to what was needed,” he said.
And then, on one ordinary day in October 2021, everything changed.
“I was working at the pantry one morning when Betsy Schneider, one of our former long-time volunteers, stopped in to visit,” said Bullaro. “As we got chatting, she told me that her brother, Tony, (Joseph Anthony O’Reilly), had passed away during COVID. I knew Tony because he had volunteered at the pantry in the past, too.”
“As it happens, when Tony worked here, we still had our first little old box truck, which he remembered,” he continued. “Before he got sick and died, he had told his three sisters that if anything were ever to happen to him, he wanted them to give the pantry $60,000 from his estate to use towards a new truck.”
“This stunning donation was one of the biggest surprises of my life,” said Bullaro. “I did the calculations in my head immediately. Along with the generous donations we had already received from the community, I knew immediately that we could order a new truck, and so we did.”
Bullaro ordered a 2023 Isuzu 16 ft. diesel truck from Nextran Truck Center in Tampa. The truck would be refrigerated with a power lift on the rear. The truck arrived in Wimauma last month and has been on the road ever since.
In all, an incredible 71 persons/groups contributed to the cost of this truck, in addition to the $60,000 from Tony. This donation was presented to Bullaro by Schneider and her sisters, Julia Eggleston and Rosemary Foti.
“This truck will go a long way toward fighting hunger and food insecurity in Hillsborough County,” said Bullaro. “We thank every single person who helped to make this impossible dream a reality.”
A memorial Mass for Joseph Tony O’Reilly was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Wimauma on January 3 at 9 a.m. Its pastor, Father Tim Cummings, blessed the truck afterwards. The pantry’s old 2006 truck is being sold and those dollars put into the pantry’s operating expenses.