Volunteers often arrive before dawn and are the backbone of Our Lady’s Pantry and its mission to serve the community.

“Many people don’t know that Our Lady’s Pantry has been serving families for more than 20 years,” said Tom Bullaro, co-director of the pantry with his wife, Anita. “In fact, we are beginning our 25th year serving those in need.”

Our Lady’s Pantry was actually ‘born’ in December 1999 when area resident Dolores Clark noticed hunger all around her and decided to fight hunger in her community.

Clark shared her idea with a group of friends from Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission: They could ask for a donation once a month, she suggested, and use it to buy food for families in need.

“And that’s what happened,” said Bullaro. “I think you could say that the result was touched with magic. Twenty-five people received food that first week. Our Lady’s Pantry has been open every single week since then — even during COVID.”

Today, the pantry has two groups of 250-300 households receiving food on alternate weeks that they can then take home to their families. So more than a thousand men, women, and children have food on their table weekly because of food purchased through the kindness of others.

Both Tom and Anita have worked at the pantry since 2004 and have come to know many of the clients who come for food.

“Folks come because of all kinds of hardship,” Bullaro said. “Some have lost their jobs, or their health, or even their homes. And families are moving in together to survive.”

And many, like Diane, 78, are simply retired and struggling to live on a small pension.

“I got here at 4 a.m. this morning. Sometimes I can’t sleep, so I may as well get up,” said Diane, who was the eighth car in line for food on this day.

The earliest volunteers start arriving between 3:30-4 a.m. The first to arrive unlocks the gate to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission campus. By this time, a half dozen cars are typically in the food line, although the pantry doesn’t begin distributing food until 7:30 a.m.

“On behalf of all the volunteers at Our Lady’s Pantry, we thank the community for your amazing support over all these many years, both financially and through countless volunteer hours,” said Bullaro.

Our Lady’s Pantry is located at 16650 U.S. 301 S. in Wimauma. New volunteers are always welcome. To learn more about the pantry, please visit www.ourladyspantry.com. Be sure to scroll down to the two-minute video by FOX 13 News on the pantry’s home page.

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