Mandarin Food Bank opened its doors in April, 1991. Our little 900 square foot building had no heat and no running water. We were blessed to have air conditioning. We had 15 volunteers on our roster. From the very start, we represented many of Mandarin’s churches. We are still partnered with all of the churches who joined us from the beginning. Many of our volunteers come from our partnered churches.
It didn’t take long for our ministry to outgrow the little building. A ne
w addition was built in 1996. We received a grant from the Powers Foundation for the bulk of the cost of the building; the rest was donated by the Mandarin community. This addition added 1200 square feet. We were able to include a much needed bathroom and kitchen. It also contained a walk in freezer and large refrigerator. We used the original building for an expanded clothes closet, several refrigerators and overflow food inventory.
In 2008, we opened our final addition of 5,000 square feet. This building has given us the ability to collect donations in a safe and covered area, has doubled the size of our clothes closet, and provided a very large multipurpose room that is used for new food donations, meetings, life skills classes, etc. We also have access to a very large attic storage area.
Our migrant worker project began in the fall of 1991. We started by filling shoe boxes (wrapped in Christmas paper), with personal products like socks, toothpaste and toothbrushes, etc. we delivered them to another ministry in St. Augustine. They took these gifts to the migrant camps on Christmas morning. They also provided a hot meal for 350 men and women living under very poor conditions in camps
southwest of St. Augustine. Since those early days, the migrant worker project has developed into a very much larger version of the original days. Duffle bags filled with personal items that now include towels, wash cloths, hats, work gloves, shampoo deodorant, toothpaste, etc. are now filled by food bank volunteers. Our volunteers also prepare the hot meal and transport it to 5 different camps. We now do this twice a year.
Other special projects at the food bank include a Life Skills program that provides formal instruction on tackling life experiences like: making and living on a budget, seeking a job, setting priorities, etc. Our birthday project that provides small birthday gifts for children of clients.
The number of clients we have seen over these last 20 years has increased every year since opening. The people we serve at the food bank are our neighbors. Many of them are new to the circumstances they find themselves experiencing. We have few rules for our clients. We do insist they are residents of the general Mandarin area, but we do not turn anyone away without food. When we have a family from outside our area, we provide food and a referral to a food pantry in their zip code for future use. We try to treat each family with kindness and dignity and provide as much privacy as possible to each client. Mother Teresa said, “They are all Jesus in disguise”.
Our volunteer roster now contains about 125 names with about 50-60 very active volunteers. The food bank is staffed entirely with volunteers. Even the Co-Directors are volunteers. Our volunteers come from all walks of life. They bring a symphony of experiences and talents that help our ministry to sing a beautiful song of love to all we serve. Each year we try to find ways to better serve our families. Most of the successful programs we have adopted have come from our wonderful family of volunteers. Our volunteers are amazing men, women, and children, of like mind, who give lovingly and willingly with an energy and enthusiasm that is a joy to see.
A brief word on the general economics of the food bank: St. Joseph’s church is responsible for all of the operating expenses. All of the monetary donations are used to help our clients. Most of the donated money is used for the purchase of perishable and nonperishable food as needed. We do use a small portion of this money to purchase larger pieces of equipment like commercial refrigerators and other large pieces of equipment. We also receive donated food from several area restaurants and grocery stores. Volunteers “break down” these products into family sized portions.
The food bank has felt the support of the entire Mandarin community since its inception in 1991, and we are very grateful. We pledge to continue our search for programs that will help each family that comes to us find some hope as they look to solutions to the many challenges of their lives.