MELBOURNE — Space Coast food pantries ‘in crisis mode’ with supplies at all-time lows; donations needed. Douglas Corwin marks his 16th year with Salvation Army of Melbourne this week — and he has never seen fewer cans of food on his nonprofit’s pantry shelves.
Last week the pantry’s dwindling inventory dropped to a two-day food supply.
“This is the lowest I’ve ever seen it. That’s a true fact,” said Corwin, emergency disaster services coordinator, standing in his depleted Hickory Street food pantry.
“We’ve been in crisis mode, because we’ve never been down that far,” he said.
Last year, 8,300 people received food from Salvation Army of Melbourne, said Michael Ayers, president and CEO of the Melbourne Regional Chamber of East Central Florida.
In Cocoa, a similar supply shortage exists at Sharing Center of Central Brevard. This emergency pantry provides food for roughly 30 impoverished households per month between Port St. John and the Pineda Causeway, stretching from the beach westward to the Brevard-Orange county line.
“Our nonperishable items are at an all-time low,” said Paula Rebman, vice president of operations.
Blame the calendar: Brevard County businesses commonly conduct food drives during the Thanksgiving-Christmas season, Rebman said, but few occur during summer months. That timing couldn’t be worse for some struggling families.
“When you think about it, summer’s really, really critical. The kids are at home, so they aren’t getting that free breakfast and lunch — they’re eating all three meals in the household during summer months. So the food cost for the family goes up tremendously,” Rebman said.
“It’s kind of cyclical. We’re getting less donations over summer, but yet our serving population grows over summer. So it’s a struggle,” she said.
By late July, Sharing Center of Central Brevard officials posted a Facebook plea: “Critical Need: Canned Vegetables… Our shelf and storage is EMPTY!”
“We’re struggling to keep the simple basic necessities on the shelves,” Rebman said. “To be out of things like canned vegetables and cereal … we’re purchasing them so we can keep product on our shelf. But we’ve never had to purchase them in the past. We have to take those funds from somewhere, so it’s less for a different program.”
North Brevard Charities Sharing Center in Titusville has also been forced to buy food to restock its shelves, said Leah Smith, client service manager. Adding to the pressure, the group opened a second pantry last October in Mims at the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex.
North Brevard Charities Sharing Center serves a couple hundred households per month, Smith said.
She recommended that pantry donors drop off peanut butter, pasta, rice and pasta sauce so families with children can maximize their meals.
Salvation Army of Melbourne officials requested food donations during a Wednesday luncheon at their fellowship hall. U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, the keynote speaker, toured the struggling pantry.
“Our pantry, guys, is dry. We can probably feed a couple more families. That’s it,” Rosa Santiago-Riordan, director of business development, told the luncheon crowd.
“I’m asking everybody to go BOGO. Bring nonperishable foods. Drop them off, just so that we can restock our shelves. It’s needed. You wouldn’t want your child to go to bed hungry. All the children here, they all belong to us,” Santiago-Riordan said.
Saturday, Yellow Dog Café co-owner Nancy Borton organized a food drive for Salvation Army of Melbourne that netted nearly $3,000 in groceries from Sam’s Club in West Melbourne.
Domestic violence survivor Theresa Zorn and her two sons, then ages 4 and 7, received assistance from the Salvation Army 28 years ago in Broward County. After attending Wednesday’s luncheon — and becoming “shocked” that the pantry shelves were so barren — she launched a food drive from her Zorn’s Tax & Accounting Services office on Merritt Island.
“People don’t want to be homeless. No one chooses it. It’s circumstances,” Zorn said.
Items in need: peanut butter, pasta, rice, pasta sauce, canned vegetables, cereal
North Brevard Charities Sharing Center, 4475 S. Hopkins Ave., Titusville: 321-269-6555
Salvation Army of Melbourne, 1080 Hickory St., Melbourne: 321-724-0494
Sharing Center of Central Brevard, 113 Aurora St., Cocoa: 321-631-0306
Giving Hope Gala
The Salvation Army of Melbourne’s sixth annual Giving Hope Gala takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Melbourne Hilton Rialto Place.
Keynote speaker is retired Army Col. Danny McKnight of “Black Hawk Down” fame. Proceeds benefit the Sue M. Pridmore Center, a 48-bed transitional center for women and children.
For tickets, call Sharon Alleva at 321-872-2224.
Neale is South Brevard watchdog reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.