By Jessica Tuggle
FELLSMERE -- Though they may be best known for their large giveaway events during Christmas, Thanksgiving and in August before school starts, Operation Hope in Fellsmere has day-to-day programs that help advance their mission of helping the needy in the community.
Jesse and Jann Zermeno, though Brevard County residents, have a heart for the people of Fellsmere and the surrounding area, and have been working to help the local poor and needy for 15 years.
Food distribution is where it all started many years ago, Mr. Zermeno said.
As time went by however, they realized the need for education in the area and set about looking for ways to fill that void too, Mrs. Zermeno said.
"Today, in addition to running an emergency food pantry and a semi-monthly food distribution day, Operation Hope runs a year-round free voluntary pre-kindergarten program with a 60-child capacity, offers soccer tournaments, karate classes and more programs are in the planning stages," Mr. Zermeno said.
He estimated that 14,000 people are helped annually by the food programs.
"The VPK offers young Fellsmere children, many of whom only speak Spanish in the home, a chance to learn English and get a head start on their educational classroom experiences," Mrs. Zermeno said. "We're very excited about what we do here with the little ones."
Originally, the Zermenos thought teaching adults English and trade skills would be the best fit, or perhaps offering tutoring for high school students, but have since learned that starting education programs for the very youngest in their community is the best help they can give, they said.
"I never thought I'd be doing preschool, but I'm so passionate about it now. They are like sponges, they just learn so much," Mrs. Zermeno said.
Operation Hope's facilities include several buildings, including a warehouse that sit on 17 acres of property, all purchased by an anonymous donor nine years ago.
"When I received this big building (in 2004) I remember walking into this facility and thinking 'God, what am I going to do with this big place, it's such a big responsibility,'" Mr. Zermeno said.
As time has passed, Mr. Zermeno has seen the opportunities come up to turn the facility into a community center.
For the past several weeks, about 100 students have shown up to take a low-cost karate class offered twice a week at Operation Hope.
"It's just beautiful seeing all the kids out there all dressed in white and learning karate," Mr. Zermeno said.
Ladies of the community have asked for Zumba classes and so Mr. Zermeno is currently interviewing candidates for a Zumba instructor, he said.
Another community program he is starting with the help of volunteers and local business owners is an indoor farmer's market on Sundays, and eventually adding Saturdays.
"It will be an opportunity for the community to buy things and sell things, garage sale type of things," Mr. Zermeno said.
Operation Hope also runs a thrift store on the weekends, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information about Operation Hope, call (772) 571-0003 or visit www.facebook.com/operationhopefellsmere.