The Children’s Table pantry aiming resources for Puerto Rico

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By Sean Arnold

The Children’s Table, a Bronson-based food pantry founded by Verna and Bill Brown, is going outside of the area it usually serves.

While it might be new territory, its newest mission is right in the organization’s wheelhouse, as it applies its organizational skills, its more than two decades of experience and its indefatigable giving spirit to serve those in need in striken Puerto Rico, which is suffering from the overwhelming devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20.

The Children’s Table this month is sending a 40-foot shipping container with food, clothes, medical items and other supplies to the island with a focus on rural and inland areas, with up to around 15 shipments planned if all goes well. It’s collaborating with area pastors and ministries with experience in providing relief to areas in crisis here and overseas. The network is working with a longtime nonprofit in Puerto Rico to help with oversight and local logistics to the subject areas. The supplies will be distributed by ministers and small rural churches.

Pastor Billy Dalton of First Baptist Church Cedar Key, Pastor Bill Keith of Countryside Baptist Church in Gainesville, and Larry Lansberry, chairman of a large-scale Ocala pantry, “His Compassion,” are among those lending support and expertise in the operation. Brown welcomes more pastors to join in the effort. They meet weekly on Thursdays at The Children’s Table to report on their progress.

The first shipment to Puerto Rico functioned somewhat like a trial balloon.

“One challenge with any situation like this is, that to get it to those in need, it sometimes has to go through a lot of steps in a process,” Dalton said. “So we’re figuring out the best way to do it to the best of our ability. It’ll include some of us from here going over there to make sure the supplies get to those in need.

“(Our contacts in Puerto Rico) may have been able to do it in the past, but during these times of crisis they many not be able to.”

The focus on rural areas and the churches that serve those areas is in step with The Children’s Table’s experience and expertise.

In early November, nearly 20 percent of Puerto Rico was still without running water, according to reports, and a majority of residents were still without phone and power services.

“We’re working the kinks out,” Brown said in October. “Instead of paying $3,000 to ship it, we’ve found agencies that will do it for us at no cost.

“We’re putting the skeleton on this thing, getting it structured so we have a good, solid base.”

The Children’s Table was started 21 years ago by the Browns, who began providing with the food from their garden. The all-volunteer charity has since issued more than 29 million pounds of food to the needy in North Florida, with a primary focus on places like Levy County as well as Putnam, Alachua, and Bradford counties.

Brown estimates around 45 percent of his organization’s food donations go to Levy County. He said it helps feed around 10,000 to 12,000 people per month in a 10-county area. It has 24 distribution locations, including First United Methodist Church in Chiefland.

For those interested in helping, you can contact The Children’s Table at (352) 486-6525, or First Baptist Church Cedar Key on Second Street at 352-543-5000.

Some items the group is looking to ship include: diapers (including adult size), batteries (especially “D”), bug repellent, toothpaste, toothbrushes, oral care items, bleach, flashlights, water, canned foods, ramen noodles, rice, beans, coffee, cereal bars, peanut butter, dry milk, sterno cans, juices, over-the-counter pain relief (such as Tylenol or Advil), basic first aid supplies, and pet foods. Cash is also welcome.