By LEAH STRATMANN
For the poor and unemployed, the economic hits just keep coming, sending more and more people to the Rural Relief Food Pantry in Bruce. Pantry manager Chuck Tucker said the pantry served 92 families on Nov. 20, roughly twice as many as the previous day in which the pantry was open. In terms of people fed, 92 families equals 266 people who benefited from free food.
To date, it has cost about $500 each time the pantry was open, but the increase in numbers adds to the cost of operating the pantry. “It wasn’t that bad because we now have USDA food being delivered and we didn’t have it over the summer. The cost is probably closer to $750 now, but it is hard to determine because at the end of the month we always have more people and with Thanksgiving coming, we wanted to make sure everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. It probably averages $750 per pantry,” Chuck commented. “One guy that came was living in a tent underneath the bridge. I imagine we will see him again. We handed out 4,000 pounds of produce from Second Seed the day after the pantry. We delivered it door to door.”
Chuck said the Shalimar Methodist Church brought them quite a bit of food for the pantry. The pantry will be open for the last time this year on Dec. 18 and not open again until mid-January because the Tuckers need a break and decisions have to be made about how to finance next year’s operation.
Because Chuck was picking up produce when the pantry was open last, Ann assumed the duties of intake manager and was stunned at what she heard from those seeking assistance. “What you find are these are people in trouble they have never been in before. The economics haven’t changed, but they have changed radically for some people. These people are having issues with food stamps and unemployment benefits being cut, and medical needs they are unable to afford to address. Many of them are caught in a baby boomer age gap—not old enough to collect social security, but too old or too ill to find a job. It’s an answer beyond food. I know the food is making a tremendous difference in people’s lives. These are people in trouble,” Ann said. “It’s so far outside of where I thought I’d be a year ago.”
Not only is the Rural Relief Fund continuing to work to feed the hungry, Ann sits on the board of Pan Care, a non-profit organization that runs community health clinics on a sliding scale basis. “Pan Care is supposed to open a satellite office on tribal land and they are trying to find the funds to do it now. I’m hoping as we progress we can at least get a flu shot clinic open on pantry days,” she said.
While Ann was looking at a spring opening for the clinic, Mike Hill, president of Pan Care said the satellite clinic should be open sometime in January, but also noted the Bruce clinic is coming to fruition “quite by accident.”
“We purchased property in Freeport that once belonged to convicted physician Robert L. Ignaskiak with assistance from a USDA grant. The grantors suggested we expand our board of directors by at least two people. About the same time I learned about the Muscogee Nation of Florida’s long fight to gain federal recognition and got in touch with Ann Tucker. I figured we might be able to access some of the funds available for Indian health services from the federal government and invited Ann to sit on the board. I helped them to find some trailers to open the pantry and the upcoming clothes closet operation. We are currently revamping the trailer we will use as a clinic and move it onto the Bruce property. I think the clinic will be open sometime in January,” Hill said.
“The big thing with Pan Care and Bruce is to be positioned to be able to move to pick up earmarked Indian Health Care monies if federal recognition is achieved and in the interim to provide a much needed service to people,” Hill commented. “We are looking to be a real community partner.”
“We picked up a lot of new families at the last pantry. Congress has not renewed unemployment benefits, which is likely to have an impact as well and may mean even more requests for food at the Dec. 18 pantry. “We expect a big rush on that day,” Chuck said, “because it is nearer the end of the month and only a few days before Christmas.”
In other news, construction on an emergency home on tribal land has not yet begun. “We are still waiting to start construction on the house. We have the materials and we are still deciding on locations. We are probably going to have to put in a new septic tank and we could sure use some donations for that,” Chuck noted.
The next pantry is Dec. 18 from 9 a.m. to noon. Donations needed include non-perishable food and cash. Contributions may be made to Rural Relief Fund, 278 Church Road, Bruce, FL 32455.
Leah Stratmann may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org