In a business where it’s better to keep your friendships at arm’s length, Gene Gardner was my friend.
Posted Dec 5, 2006 by Penny Fletcher
Updated Dec 6, 2006 at 09:15 AM
By PENNY FLETCHER
About 800 families a week come to the Good Samaritan Mission in Balm to meet these basic needs. The problem is, the mission is in need itself.
With so much farm land being developed, coupled with hurricanes and other natural disasters having used up so much of the area’s volunteer manpower and financial donations, the mission’s shelves are often bare, said Good Samaritan’s co-founder, Dora Cruz. Cruz has operated the mission for more than 25 years with her husband, the Rev. Bill Cruz, along with the help of a small staff and volunteers.
“We operate on faith,” Cruz said. “We had to close our daycare for two years but recently we reopened that on faith. Somehow, the Lord will provide.”
Every Tuesday, hundreds of men, women and children line up to receive bags of beans, rice, flour, cooking oil and other foods. Other days, those same people in need may also pick up day-old bread donated from local stores.
Donors come from as near as the South Shore area, and as far away as many other parts of the country, according to Cruz. .
“We even got restaurant-size cans of applesauce from Michigan,” Cruz said. “And a group of home-schoolers from Clearwater comes regularly to bring us food and help out with the work.”
South Shore residents also donate their time and money, but the mission could definitely use more.
“People from the Sun City Center Methodist Church come every Wednesday and bring us rice and chicken and cakes and lots of other things,” she added. “But people are waiting in line to get them. They do not last long.”
Often, Cruz is seen racing through the hallways of the mission, pointing volunteers to boxes of blankets and pre-measured bags of rice and beans to be handed out to the many waiting in line.
Today is no different. Except for the moment when she pulled a gray-colored man’s sweater over the head of a young father, two small girls clinging to his legs. The children were both wearing coats against the chill, but the father, clad only in a short-sleeved T-shirt, was shivering from the cold.
“Many come like this,” Cruz said. “They care so much for their children.”
Many parents, with toddlers and babies wrapped in blankets, and sometimes packed two or three to a stroller, expressed their gratitude for the food and blankets they received. Most of the conversations were in Spanish.
“The mission staff is so dedicated,” Cruz said. And all are bilingual.
Janet Tirado, who works in the daycare, is trained in both dentistry and accounting. Yet she chooses to work at the mission.
“My husband was stationed at MacDill (Air Force Base in Tampa) when I fell in love with this place,” Tirado said.
Rosa Borras, assistant kitchen manager, recently became a full-time employee at the mission. Once a farmworker herself, she and kitchen manager Aurelia Gonzelez try to feed the multitudes with a supply that never seems to be quite enough.
“When the shelter (at Bethune Park in Wimauma) opened last night – because of the cold – the county called and asked us if we could feed them,” Cruz said. Chicken and rice were taken to the people who slept in the park’s heated building. The leftover chicken was combined with some spaghetti to provide a hot meal the following day.
“Some people from the Methodist church (in Sun City Center) make take-out plates when they can so the farmworkers – when they come in late, tired and dirty – have a hot meal right there waiting for them,” Cruz said. “There are so many loyal volunteers here, but the Lord keeps sending people to us and we need more and more to help them.”
At Christmas time, the needs are especially great. More people are out of work for the winter, and Cruz would like to see every family get at least one toy for each child and a good meal on the table.
“With faith it can happen,” she said. “We do everything on faith.”
Posted Dec 5, 2006 by Penny Fletcher
Updated Dec 5, 2006 at 02:09 PM
By PENNY FLETCHER
Close to 80 riders boarded two new South Shore connector buses Nov. 20 as they made their debut in Sun City Center.
Forty-seven of those were welcomed aboard one of the buses by Raymond Miller, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit company’s executive director. All the riders were taking part in the inaugural trip of HARTline’s Route 35LX from South Shore to Westfield Brandon.
Other HARTline officials also rode with the residents, explaining the addition of services in the South Shore area due to its recent growth.
“The area is growing very, very fast,” said HARTline spokeswoman Kathy Karalekas. “We’re trying very hard to make public transportation a more pleasant experience so that more people will choose our services.”
With roads overcrowded by new development, HARTline has added several routes as well as expanded services on others in hopes of getting more people out of their cars and onto public transportation, she said.
As part of the kick-off of the new services, HARTline offered free rides on all five routes serving South Shore the week of Nov. 20.
Besides 35LX, new routes include 47LX to downtown and local connector routes 86 and 87, which add to Route 31 that already runs the route from South Shore to downtown Tampa with many stops along the way.
LX, which stands for “limited express” takes between half and hour and 45 minutes to get from Sun City Center to Westfield Brandon, Karalekas said.
Another “LX” service, No. 47, will offer limited express service every hour Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and from 4 to 6 p.m., between the South Shore Regional Service Center and Westfield Brandon, traveling on U.S. 301. This route will depart from the South Shore Regional Library on Saturdays and will run every two hours.
Connector routes 86 and 87 (with 20 seats and two wheelchair positions) will also continue to run in South Shore. Although HARTline buses range from the capacity to transport 20 to 35 passengers, South Shore buses will average about 35 seats.
Several fixed-rate schedules are available for frequent riders, including a 31-day fare card that costs $10 ($5 for seniors 65 and older) and the 20-ride card, which can be used for an indefinite amount of time, until the 20 rides have been taken.
Sun City Center residents will be permitted to use their community association cards for identification as proof of age, Karalekas said.
Kings Point residents will not have to pay to ride the bus, because HARTline and the Kings Point Condominium Association have an agreement where a portion of their condominium dues pays their fare, she added.
All buses are equipped to carry bicycles in case riders want to use another means of transportation once they reach their stop. All busses are accessible for wheelchair riders.
The wheelchair capability is important to Don Schings, who uses a wheelchair. A director on the Sun City Center Board of Directors, Schings took the inaugural ride to see if it would be easily accessible.
“The LX Express ramps were easy to use, and there were good tie-downs so I didn’t get tossed around,” Schings said. “We were dropped off in Brandon (at Westfield Brandon) in front of Sam Seltzers right on time. We stayed awhile and then took a bus back, and that was right on time too.”
Another Sun City Center Community Association director, Peter Walker, also tried out the new bus, although he only rode to the first stop – in front of Publix at the corner of U.S. 301 and State Road 674.
Walker, who stands taller than 6-feet, said he had plenty of leg room.
“I didn’t feel crowded,” Walker said. “The ride was very enjoyable. Very comfortable.”
The association board is now considering allowing HARTline to erect a bus shelter and bench at its stop on association property in front of the library, Walker said.
Posted Nov 20, 2006 by Penny Fletcher
Updated Nov 20, 2006 at 01:22 PM
Couple Takes Mission
Trips All Over Globe
IN THEIR 80s
By PENNY FLETCHER
When Josephine Baker realized her husband, Hank, couldn’t go with her on their planned mission trip to Germany, Hungary and the Ukraine, she hesitated.
But only for a moment.
Although it was her first such trip without Hank, the 85-year-old Sun City Center woman decided it was important to their life’s ministry, and went anyway.
The two have been traveling the globe together, teaching with the Mission of the Holy Spirit, since their first experience with the Catholic charismatic ministry in the 1970s.
The charismatic ministry teaches that God interacts with people now the same way as in the books of the New and Old Testament Bible.
“I had many doubts about going on such a strenuous mission at my age, but the (missionary) team assured me they would make everything as easy as possible for me,” Josephine Baker said in an interview following her recent return. “They said I would be a sign to others, showing them they could still serve God when they were old.”
Hank, 88, had a crushed vertebrae or he would have taken the trip with her.
“We’ve been making these trips our whole lives, it seems,” he said.
The couple met in college and married before he left to fight in World War II. They have six children – all of whom are somehow involved in ministry.
“One daughter is a pastor, another is married to a pastor. Another works with the poor. Another with school children. They all help others and live to serve God,” she said.
The couple has spent 27 years in their ministry, which teaches that events such as those related in the Bible’s New Testament still happen today.
“People are healed and filled with the Holy Spirit,” she said. “In Poland, one young man, who had problems for years after his father committed suicide, became a priest (later in life.) We have lots of stories like that.”
The couple moved to Sun City Center in 1993 from Washington, D.C. where Hank was a government safety engineer.
The headquarters for the Mission of the Holy Spirit, is in D.C., and their daughter, Margaret Gibson, is now its executive director. Gibson was also one of the team of 10 from the United States to make the recent trip; four from Hillsborough County and six from the Ralph Martin Ministries in Michigan.
While the Baker’s itinerary varies, their message doesn’t.
“We go wherever God leads us and tell about the Holy Spirit,” Hank Baker said.
In Christianity, the Holy Spirit is the manifestation of God that came to earth following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and enables followers to do works – considered miracles – like the followers of Jesus did in the New Testament book, Acts of the Apostles.
For 10 years they went every six months to work with the Hustaken Indians in Mexico, raising money for food, clothing and shelter.
Their most recent trip took them to Budapest, Hungary, parts of southern Germany and the Ukraine, to minister, but they also made short sightseeing stops in Vienna and Salzburg.
In Germany, the team worked at the Catholic Retreat Center in Freiburg, with the Rev. Eryk Kapala, a minister with The Divine Mercy as their guide.
They slept on mattresses on the floor at a monastery in Krasilov, Ukraine; huddled under blankets to keep warm on a freezing plane; had trouble at customs because a wrong ticket was pulled in New York, and ministered on land poisoned by the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl.
Now they’re planning to go to the high desert in California to minister to poor Mexicans, American Indians and Caucasians who live near Joshua Tree (California), she said.
Leaving Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving, they plan to be gone for several weeks, so they put up their Christmas tree Nov. 7.
“We’ll be coming back the day before Christmas and our grandsons will be here,” she said. “So we’re putting it up while we get ready to go.”
Between trips, the couple speaks at South Shore events, including churches and at groups. The Bakers will talk about their experiences overseas Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. at the meeting of the Full Gospel Business Men and Ladies‘Association at Denny’s Restaurant, at the intersection of State Road 674 at Cypress Boulevard in Sun City Center.