SOS for SOS

In this April 2020 photo, volunteers load essentials into waiting vehicles at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Hernando as part of the SOS food pantry's weekly food giveaway. The program serves hundreds of people in Citrus County each Thursday by providing nutritional foods, health and hygiene supplies and medical referrals among other services to those in need.

Last week, the walk-in refrigerator was hit and destroyed by lightning and the nonprofit needs $6,500 to replace it.

Like all food pantries, SOS food pantry works on a shoestring budget trying to serve people in the community who are also struggling to make ends meet.

So, when a lightning strike destroyed their big walk-in refrigerator and they had to throw out between $2,000 and $2,500 worth of food, it affected hundreds of people.

“We had to turn away our USDA food delivery, which is milk and cheese and things that need refrigeration,” said Maria Cyr, SOS food pantry director. “We serve between 100 and 150 families a week, which is about 350 to 500 people, so that’s a lot of people who didn’t get that food for their families.”

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Cyr said last week — SOS has their food distribution on Thursdays — the Community Food Bank came to their rescue and brought them some food to give away.

But now the nonprofit pantry that has been a lifeline to the community needs the community’s help.

The refrigerator is irreparable, but they have located a replacement unit that costs $6,500.

“Many in the community are familiar with the SOS food pantry, and throughout the past 18 months of the pandemic, a small army of dedicated volunteers have worked tirelessly to ensure that people in need in Citrus County would not go hungry, and so far we’ve succeeded in keeping the pantry from dissolving,” Cyr said.

Cyr said they have three needs: Funds to replace the walk-in refrigerator is first and foremost.

Second, they need volunteers.

“Most of our volunteers are over 70 and have been with us for many years,” Cyr said. “We would really like to find and train younger people, those under 50. We’ve got older people lifting and loading food into trunks, and that’s hard work.”

They need volunteers to help organize food on Wednesdays when the food is delivered, and help with distribution on Thursdays, help clients fill out paperwork, direct traffic, etc.

Food distribution is from 8 to 10 a.m. on Thursdays at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 439 E. Norvell Bryant Highway, Hernando. Drive-thru only.

The third need is for a volunteer assistant director.

Cyr , who inherited the job as director from the late John Bourdeaux, the heart and soul of the nonprofit organization for more than 16 years before he died in October 2020, had worked alongside Bourdeaux, learning the ins and outs of what they do, and why they do it.

Shortly after Bourdeaux’s death, Cyr told the Chronicle, “When you met John, all you wanted to do was what he did — all you wanted to do was go out and serve people. He didn’t care who you were, if you drove up in a new car or lived in the woods; if you were hungry, he’d give you food.

“He did a lot behind the scenes, too — he helped more people than anybody knows about,” Cyr said. “He bought houses and cars for people, and never asked for a penny back. He once told me he would probably die with no money in the bank because of the needs of others.”

Now Cyr is looking for others who share that same vision and passion for helping people.

So far this year, SOS has distributed more than 380,000 pounds of food to more than 13,000 people, and they want to continue.

To help:

Send checks made payable to SOS food pantry to P.O. Box 640774 Beverly Hills, FL 34464-0774.

For more information about volunteering, email SOS4FOOD@gmail.com or call Maria at 352-613-2218.

SOS is an equal opportunity provider.

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com. Read more of Nancy's stories at tinyurl.com/yxt69grh