The beginnings of a box of groceries for one family. Still to be added are pasta, tomato sauce, rice, fresh produce, meat, baked goods and snacks.

Mahatma Gandhi once pointed out that “there are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

Twenty-four years ago, Dolores Clark must have read Gandhi’s words — and then she had an idea: She wanted to fight hunger in her community. Clark shared her idea with the Knights of Columbus and their wives. Together, they made a plan to take up a monthly collection among parishioners that they would call Project Hunger and use those dollars to buy nutritious food and store it in the little room in back of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission. They would distribute the food in the vestibule after Mass on Sundays to anyone who needed it.

And so it was that in December 1999, Our Lady’s Pantry was born at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission. Thanks to the passion of the organizers and the generosity of parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe and Prince of Peace, 25 families went home with food that very first week.

Before long, word spread, with more and more families coming for food, and the mission continued to grow. Today, an average of 300 clients stop by each Saturday for food to take home for themselves and their families.

“What began as a simple gesture to fight food insecurity has taken on all the complexities and operational costs of big business,” said director Tom Bullaro. “We work on a fiscal year basis and just calculated our costs for the past fiscal year, July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023. We spent a stunning $88,756 for food these past 12 months, an 80 percent increase over our cost for food from last year.”

Additionally, maintenance on the pantry’s trucks last year cost $11,474, fuel cost $10,422, and insurance cost $2,166.

As food prices continue to climb and other support organizations have less to contribute, Our Lady’s Pantry remains optimistic that with donations and support from the community, the pantry will continue its mission for years to come.

“We so appreciate the support of the community and the hundreds of amazing volunteers who have worked so hard since 1999 keeping our pantry doors open every single week. We could never fight hunger in this community without all the donations we receive and so very many helping hands — not to mention the magic called divine providence.”

To learn more about the nonprofit, to donate or to volunteer, visit Our Lady’s Pantry is located at 16650 U.S. Hwy. 301 S. in Wimauma.

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