Polk County churches unite to find ways to feed the hungry.

Any kind of donated food is welcome at the First Baptist Church's new food pantry, a collaboration between four area churches in Lake Alfred.

LAKE ALFRED – In a tough economy, it’s been a steady business, with no slowdown in new customers.
“This past week, we had 11 new people,” said Sheilan Runnels. “So each week we pick up new people. We don’t see the same people returning week to week. We have not seen that. We may eventually see that.”
While business continues to rise, it’s actually a sign of how rough the economy has been in Polk County, rather than an indication of improving economic conditions. Runnels is a member of the First Baptist Church of Lake Alfred, and helped them put together the Lake Alfred Food Pantry to meet the needs of hungry families in the county.
And as Runnels pointed, the need is definitely there.
“We started in February, so we only have had a couple of months, but what I do see is new people every single week that we’re open,” she said.
The official name of the Lake Alfred food pantry is United H.O.P.E of Lake Alfred.
“It’s an acronym for Helping Other People Eat,” Runnels said. “We actually opened on the second Thursday in February. Feb. 10 was our first day.”
This was also a collaborative effort between four local churches, that saw the need to collectively address the growing challenge of hunger at a time of rising unemployment.
“There are several churches in Lake Alfred that came together and had several food panties of our own,” she said. “We wanted to pull together for a great cause and pool our resources and be stronger, and be able to feed more people and have more support for the community, rather than each individual church trying to do it. That’s how it came about.”
In addition to First Baptist Church, where Runnels is a parishioner, the other churches involved included Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, New Life and Praise Worship Center, and First Presbyterian Church.
But it’s not just residents of Lake Alfred who can take advantage of the services provided by the food pantry, Runnels said.
“We service all of Polk County,” she said. “We’re open on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month, and we’re hoping to expand soon to include the third Thursday as well. As soon as we have the resources and the people to man it, we sure will. If there are any more churches in Polk County that want to get involved, that would be awesome.”
The pantry is located in a separate building at the First Baptist Church, which is at 280 E. Pierce St.
Runnels said they get their food from various donors, as well as food pantries like AGAPE Food Pantry Inc., based in Virginia.
“We get USDA food through AGAPE,” Runnels said, adding that they also encourage people to make donations and contributions to this cause.
“Absolutely, because we do have to purchase food from time to time,” she said. “We had a food drive just recently and did the Green Bag project in Lake Alfred in one small neighborhood.”
Based in ChampionsGate, Green Bag is a project where volunteers drop off green shopping bags at homes in local neighborhoods, with a note asking people to donate food by placing it inside the bag and leaving it out for the volunteers to pick up at a later date.
“We put the green bags out and asked them if they would fill it and we would come back and pick them up on a particular day, and that worked out well,” she said. “We also did a concert in the park right behind the Presbyterian church, a free concert, which was great for us.”
But the need is always still there, she added.
“We service for one month, and it empties the shelves,” Runnels said. “Any money that can be given to us, or any donations, can be dropped off at the First Baptist Church of Lake Alfred, or it can also be mailed to us, with a check donation made out to the Lake Alfred Ministerial Association.”
To learn more, call 863-956-1477.

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