Since opening in 2015, Dunedin Cares Food Pantry has come a long way. It all started with one man’s vision with just a few jars of peanut butter in a one-room set up in the back of a church hall to a free-standing building today. The pantry service provides groceries to anyone in need within 34698 and the surrounding zip codes.
Pinellas County has always had a high rate of food insecurity – in some towns as high as 40% – but the increase at the pantry rose dramatically when the pandemic hit. Joe Mackin, President of Dunedin Cares, commented that “our parking lot became commonplace to see lines of cars in the summer heat, and some days volunteers served 100 families or more.” For example, he said, “On the Thursday before Thanksgiving in 2020, we served 170 families while their cars lined up on the street. Straight through 2020, and well past the Holidays, “Our wonderful volunteers stepped up with creative ideas in adopting a drive-through curbside service.”
2021 has not yet shown much relief. As families face summertime without their needed school-supplied meals, rent relief and stimulus checks have run out. As a result, pantry numbers have risen an additional 40% over last year. Annual fundraisers like the Peanut Butter & Jelly Challenge and the Holiday Turkey & Toy Drive are instrumental in the pantry’s ability to stay ahead of the need. “Without the support of our local schools, churches, civic groups, corporations, and many, many, individuals, we would not have been able to sustain,” said Mr. Mackin.
Dunedin Cares Food Pantry Mission: To alleviate hunger by providing food to the local community, showing kindness, respect, and compassion as neighbors help neighbors.
No matter how much the pantry grows and reinvents, guests and volunteers will always be the heartbeat. We are serving over 600 families each month, which is 1,500 individual family members. First-time families and individuals leave glowing reviews about how professional, empathetic, and genuine the volunteers are and how clean and well organized the facility is. They arrive in their work uniforms, with infants, with caretakers – most just trying to figure out what to do because they have never needed help before. Dunedin Cares is proud to offer a safe, judgment-free space where individuals can receive groceries, pet food, and personal care items with dignity and respect.
Dunedin Cares is also happy to partner recently with other organizations like Neighborly (Senior Meals on Wheels, to supply groceries to housebound seniors) and Meals On Wheels 4 Kids (groceries for students without transportation). In addition, an idea learned from an organization in Naples, FL, St. Matthews House, encouraged us to start a mobile food pantry each Wednesday in one of four local churches. Our Executive Director, JoAnn Fell, has led this effort with her team packing non-perishable food boxes to assist those who cannot visit our pantry directly.
The vision continues. What’s next for Dunedin Cares? Time will tell, but one thing for sure, we will always “Help Others.”