By Erika Webb
Fast approaching is the time of year when people start to think about putting more food on the table than usual. Calendars aren't mandatory to announce October's arrival. The Publix parking lot is the best barometer.
But too many families don't have the luxury of stocking up for the holidays. Sustenance is a daily worry, more so than ever in Volusia and some surrounding counties.
Students Reach-Out wants to allay some of those worries. The group will have an all you can eat spaghetti dinner fundraiser from 5-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Four Townes Moose Lodge in DeBary.
Students Reach-Out Treasurer Lisa Hoffman said early in their marriage her parents struggled to put food on the table. Her father, Tom Hoffman, never forgot those times.
"He personally knew what it was like to need help and decided he wanted to help others," Ms. Hoffman said.
Over 22 years, the monumental outcome of his altruism has proved to be many-fold, drawing from every conceivable resource to provide for the less fortunate, and teaching young people the value of service.
In 1991, Mr. Hoffman started a food pantry in the janitor's closet at the school his daughters attended -- Osteen Elementary.
"He went around the community asking for as many donations as he could get and that December we gave out new toys and food baskets to probably more than 100 families," Ms. Hoffman said. "It was a huge success and we only grew from there. We eventually branched out to schools in the Deltona, Debary, Osteen, Enterprise and Orange City areas. Currently we have anywhere from 15-20 schools that participate."
Students Reach-Out is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that enlists the help of school guidance counselors to refer families in need as well as the help of teachers, students, area businesses and organizations willing to donate time and money to sustain the effort.
"A family can fill out an assistance form and, once approved, they can come to the SRO office and receive approximately two to four bags of groceries and, if available, a $20 gift certificate for items such as milk, eggs, bread and meats," Ms. Hoffman explained. "As of today, we have helped more than 60,000 people and have been able to provide well over 500,000 meals to families in need."
Emergency assistance with non-perishable foods is available to qualified families up to nine times a year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, along with other services available to students.
The Students Reach-Out program outgrew the janitor's closet and is now behind the Four Townes Moose Lodge at 201 Benson Junction Road in DeBary. The pantry is open 1-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
What began as an emergency food assistance effort for school families at Osteen Elementary, continued to grow as Deltona grew, according to SRO volunteer Sheri Sallade.
"We raise every dollar ourselves, mainly by writing grants and doing fundraisers, such as the upcoming spaghetti dinner, an annual fish fry, and we are even thinking about hosting a chili cook off sometime this coming February," Ms. Hoffman said.
Donations of nonperishable foods and money are always appreciated, especially with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays coming up, she added.
Students Reach-Out Director Mindy Rinne said teachers and guidance counselors at the schools facilitate student participation. Elementary school students compete with fun challenges like the peanut butter and jelly and mac and cheese drives.
Last year high school students at Pine Ridge and Deltona bought Christmas gifts and assembled food baskets for families in need.
"For several years students at Heritage Middle School made spirit bracelets," Ms. Rinne said. "They were allowed to sell them before school, after school and at lunch and the profits went to Students Reach-Out."
A most memorable fundraiser was the pet show put together by students at Sunrise Elementary, who entered their pets for a nominal fee.
"I have to tell you, we had everything from iguanas to birds to dogs. That was awesome," Ms. Rinne said.
Ms. Rinne served as assistant director under Mr. Hoffman, who passed away in 2005.
"He worked on this program for years and years," she said. "He was a very enthusiastic person and he gave it his all. He was very generous of heart."
The man who lost part of his arm in an industrial accident never forgot the kindness shown to him when he was less fortunate.
When his health began to fail, there was one thing on his mind.
"He said 'Mindy, please don't let this program fail if you can help it,'" Ms. Rinne recalled. "I promised I would do my best, but it's not me ... it's the nucleus of volunteers and the community support that make this program what it is."
"We have to raise-up the next generation of leaders in our students so they can take over some day," she added.
For more information, call (386) 668-8108 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.