Bill Brown has been feeding the people of Levy County and the surrounding rural areas for the last 20 years.
For the last three years, he has used an old restaurant in Bronson as the distribution facility.
The former restaurant was converted into Children’s Table food pantry. Boxes of food are stacked to the ceiling in the room that used to be a kitchen. Where patrons once sat, there are pallets of donated food.
Brown and his volunteers receive an estimated 20 tons of food a week and feed about 4,000 families. They receive no federal aid and ask for a $3.50 donation from the people who receive a box of food.
“We limit [the donation] to that,” said Brown. “We found out what it would cost to operate, and that’s it. If they don’t have it, there’s no discussion, they just go right on through.”
“That’s what makes this thing work. They’re a part of it.”
After Brown, 87, gives out a box of food, the recipient signs a sheet stating how many people the food will feed. By Brown’s estimate, Children’s Table has fed 172,000 this year. There is still one month left.
Once a week Children’s Table goes to Wal-Mart to collect donated food. Local farms occasionally donate misshapen, over- or undersized produce to them.
On Mondays, Frieda Freeman, a full-time employee of the organization, gets up before the sun and drives to three different Publix Supermarkets in Gainesville to collect donated day-old bread. A semi-truck full of donated food from Gordon Food Service arrives later that day and is all unpacked by lunch.
Beginning at 2:30 p.m., members of the community begin lining up outside the restaurant. Law enforcement officers make sure the line doesn’t get out of hand, and volunteers line up on the porch in front of the tables of food.
Jonathan Lozada and his two children, Faith, 6, and King, 8, came away with fresh groceries and a lollipop for each child.
“I work a full-time job and I got a promotion,” Lozada said. “They took away my food stamps for a one dollar promotion. [Faith and King] eat like bottomless pits. We wouldn’t make it through the week without it.”
“It’s very personal here,” said Brown. “The families see us once a week.”
Four days a week, Children’s Table packs up a mostly gutted school bus with food and visits places in Hernando, Marion, Levy, Alachua, Gilchrist and Dixie counties.
Patrons line up outside the bus with their empty basket or box. The containers are filled with food by volunteers inside the vehicle, after which patrons pick them up at the back of the bus.
“We try to stay in the rural areas, in the small communities that don’t get anything else,” said Brown.
No one is turned away and Brown said they even deliver boxes of food in for those in dire need.
“If they come, they’re qualified,” said Brown. “We do the best we can and just keep going.”