CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – A nonprofit in Pinellas County is not only the biggest provider of food for those in need in the area, but it is also is fueling them up in other ways.
Hope Villages of America offers assistance for those in the county in many ways, including shelters for families, affordable housing, utility and rental assistance, a safe house for women and children and much, much more.
“We also have about 90 different food banks and food pantries across Pinellas County. Which equates [to assisting] about 70,000 people,” said president and CEO Kirk Ray Smith.
The organization’s main food pantry hub is located on South Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Clearwater. Those in need of food can drive-up for assistance and other help as well.
“What also happens is when families come to us we do a very, it’s not too in-depth, but it is an assessment, as part of our intake process for us to determine what other needs they may have in addition to being food insecure,” Smith explained.
Everyone is assessed on a case-by-case basis because Smith explained if someone is food insecure, there are other needs.
He said running their 90 food pantries throughout the county can be expensive, but the need is even greater.
“It’s always been expensive, but imagine you have to make the decision when you don’t have a living wage, you have to decide, ‘am I going to buy groceries? Am I going to pay the rent? Am I going to be able to put gas in my car?'” he said. “Well, you can’t look for a job without gas in your car. I mean, heck, you can’t come to the food bank unless you’re a recipient of our mobile pantry, without gas in your car.”
Hope Villages of America offers gas cards to those in need of fuel assistance. The need is also determined through their assessment, there’s no free-for-all.
“Now, with gas prices being what they are, we’re seeing a significant increase of people in need of that support. So now we’re doing it a lot more. We can do upwards of 50 people in one week,” Smith said.
Those who want to assist Hope Villages of America can check them out online. Donations can be made, but volunteer opportunities are also available.
“It’s sad that the need is on the rise, but we’re also grateful to be in a position to meet that need,” said Smith.