Lakeland food pantry sees exponential growth in need

Every Tuesday morning, hundreds of cars line up to get help with one of life's necessities -- food.

What is happening at Blessings and Hope Food Pantry in Lakeland is happening all over Tampa Bay.

As COVID-19 cases increase, so do the number of people needing help.

“We often see people with fairly nice cars coming through, Rev. Allan Fetto, the organization’s founder, told FOX 13. “They’re saying, I never expected to be out of work. It’s the first time in my life, but I’m glad you’re here to help us.”

Deborah Joseph makes sure she gets there early. Every week, she picks up boxes of food for others in need.

The day we met her, Joseph was bringing food to a family man who lost his job because of the pandemic. His newfound financial situation is compounding the other stresses in his life.

“He called me crying because his wife is going blind, and he says I don’t know what I am going to do because I have been working. I have never been out of work in ten years, and now we’re going to lose everything,” she said.

Last year, Fetto says Blessings and Hope was feeding about 2,000 people a month. Now, after COVID hit, it’s feeding close to 10,000.

The pantry operates out of a former Wells Fargo Bank on Edgewood Drive. The parking lot is not nearly big enough to accommodate all the cars that show up, so they park down the street at a nearby church.

“By the time I get here at 7:30, there are cars lined up at the front, ready to go,” explained Beverly Lamb, Fretto’s wife.

The cars continue to arrive throughout the morning. Little by little, cars are directed to drive from the church to the food bank.

Fretto says ultimately the trick is trying to keep up with the increasing need for food.

“When we’re finished here at the end of the day, I’m on the phone, I’m on the internet, trying to find more supplies,” he explained.

If you want to volunteer at Blessings and Hope or want to make a donation, call 863-698-7512.