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Protecting and providing

An Odessa church provides deputies in parts of Hillsborough and Pasco with bags of food to give to hungry and homeless people.

By TIM GRANT
Published October 15, 2003

TAMPA - Sheriff's deputies in parts of Hillsborough and Pasco counties are not only enforcing the law, they're also delivering meals.

They're carrying bags of food in the trunks of their cruisers to hand out to people in need. The bags are going to homeless people, jobless people and families in distress.

"Quite often, we run across people who don't have anything," said Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Dale Russell. "Sometimes people are put in that position really quickly, where a husband might walk out on a wife and kids.

"We haven't had the luxury of being able to help someone immediately who needs it. So, this will be something new for us."

Operation Street Grace is the work of First Baptist Church of Odessa, a small congregation near the Pasco/Hillsborough County line. The ministry is their way to reach out to people who cannot get to the church's food pantry, which is open Saturdays.

Russell has asked the church to supply 300 bags for Hillsborough deputies to distribute in northwest Hillsborough. About a dozen deputies in Pasco County are distributing the food bags in the Holiday and Odessa areas.

"It makes us feel a little bit better because sometimes we have to be the bad guys," said Pasco County Deputy Scott Linberry.

Church members donate $3 a week to a fund they use to buy the cans of chili, pudding, fruit cups, crackers and granola bars that go into the bags.

It is an anonymous ministry. The brown paper bags contain no religious literature and do not mention the church. They are merely sealed with stickers that read: Operation Street Grace.

"We are producing about 25 bags a week for patrol cars," said Tom Wade, the church pastor. "Our goal is to provide as many bags as Hillsborough and Pasco county deputies would like to have."

The church, which draws from both counties, is at 1234 Gunn Highway in Pasco County. It has fewer than 100 members, and the average Sunday attendance is about 50.

About 25 members attend the Wednesday night service, where the food money is collected.

"The quality of the bags vary from week-to-week based on what we can buy for our money," Wade said. "None of the money for this ministry comes out of the church budget. We use the $3 donations on Wednesday nights and any extra donations."

The Salvation Army is donating boxes of razors, soap, shampoo, conditioner and other toiletries included in the food bags.

Wade said Operation Street Grace started three months ago during a prayer meeting.

Linberry, a member of the church, told the others he wished he had a bag of food in his trunk because he came across someone that day who could really use it. So, Wade gave Linberry a bag and a few more for other Pasco deputies.

Linberry didn't have his bag for very long.

Responding to a complaint about a homeless man, he sought the man out at a gas station in Holiday. The business owner did not want the man hanging around.

"He wasn't breaking the law, but I could tell he was hungry," Linberry said. "We asked him to leave, but before I did, I asked if he wanted some food. He was kind of suspicious, so I went to the trunk and gave him a bag. He seemed pretty happy to get it."

Since then, Linberry said he has given 10 bags to fellow Pasco deputies and their reaction has been positive.

Russell, who is coordinating Operation Street Grace in Hillsborough, said he is attending all the roll call assemblies at the Citrus Park command post to explain the program to deputies.

"Anybody who wants the bags can get them from me, and we'll be able to distribute them to the needy whenever we run across them," Russell said. "It will be nice to be able to give them something to get them through the day until we can get them some longer-term help.

"Without having to take them anywhere or go anywhere, we can go into our trunks."

- Tim Grant can be reached at 269-5311 or at grant@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 15, 2003, 01:33:50]


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