Lakeland food pantry set on fire, seeking donations ahead of Thanksgiving

Days after a Lakeland food pantry lost everything from an intentionally set fire, staff and volunteers are asking the community for food donations, hoping to still serve the community this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday night, Polk County deputies responded to New Testament Ministries food pantry off of Combee Road S for an arson investigation. Gordon Nelson was arrested after he was seen on surveillance footage lighting the building on fire.

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Founder and President Dais Abraham said he served Nelson before. When Abraham arrived to the pantry later that evening, he was speechless.

"We were fully loaded for Thanksgiving. Actually, we were so full all the way to the ceiling," he said, "I never thought it was burnt til' I came and looked at it. I thought maybe it was outside. I was not expecting it to completely be gone."

Staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly, day and night to clean up the mess. That's not stopping them from serving families this Thanksgiving.

"I called in a few places to get me some freezer trailers or freezer trucks," he said, "People have been calling me [saying] that they want to donate some food for Thanksgiving. So we will receive and load up the freezer truck and keep it ready for Thanksgiving so that we can still continue to do."

READ: Organizations across Tampa Bay pitch in for Thanksgiving food donations

Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the food pantry will be accepting food donations, perishables and non-perishables to distribute to those in need this Thanksgiving.

"We think we can fill it up and serve as many people that come in here to receive as much food as they can during this season," Abraham said.

Thanksgiving donations will be given out on Wednesday from noon to 2 p.m. while supplies last in a drive-thru distribution format. The food pantry is also seeking volunteers.

The food pantry is located at 2940 Combee Road S. For more information, click here.