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Living a commitment to those who are in need

The head of Citrus United Basket says, "The value of volunteers just can't be measured in terms of money.''

By JORGE SANCHEZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Ron Thompson]
The fun personality of CUB executive director Nola Gravius helps her keep the spirits up of both the workers at Citrus United Basket and the citizens who come into the community support organization.
INVERNESS -- The sign outside the Citrus United Basket may read "Thanks From Santa," but to many people, Santa is Nola Gravius, the director of an agency that provides food, clothing and hope to many needy residents of Citrus.

Gravius has been the executive director of CUB, as the agency is called, for 11 years. A 25-year resident of Citrus, she has guided the food and clothes bank through a tremendous growth period.

"When we first started, we gave out maybe three or four bags of food a day," she said. "Now we're over 35 bags of food a day."

Christmas brought a staggering flurry of activity. As the toys and food from drives by various agencies started to fill the tiny buildings on N Apopka Avenue, CUB's army of volunteers worked many hours to assemble food baskets and sort through the toys.

"We put in 2,000 volunteer hours just for Christmas," Gravius said. "That's when the value of volunteers just can't be measured in terms of money."

Gravius works the long hours as well.

"My Christmas is here," she said, gesturing in the CUB warehouse. "My life is here."

The holidays may be over, but the needs of people facing tough times remain.

Every day, CUB volunteers take in donated items, which are quickly sorted. Some items are placed in the thrift store, but most are simply given away.

"People give us all kinds of things. Lately, the things we've been given have been of better quality, and we're glad to give them out," Gravius said.

Gravius said CUB is working to get people off welfare and into the work force. For some CUB clients, that means breaking a one- or two-generational cycle of living off public assistance.

"It's hard to make a new start like that," she said. "Lots of times, we take a young mother, give her two or three business outfits to wear on job interviews, give her shoes, purse and a hairstyle. That makes a big difference, and we're here to provide that kind of help."

When asked how long she plans on staying at CUB, Gravius said: "Till I die, I hope. It started out as a job, but now it's a commitment. A commitment to the people of Citrus County."

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