By Dexter McCree, Feature Writer
ST. PETERSBURG —Who would have thought that an illegal U-turn following a long and hard day of work would turn into a five-year commitment for Opal Murray at the Feed St. Pete Food pantry located at Pinellas Community Church?
One day as she was driving home from a hectic workday at Gulf Coast Jewish Center and Family Services, she decided to travel down US 19 instead of her normal 31st Street route to avoid the long wait at the stop light. In making a right turn, a sign caught her attention that read: “Food Pantry.”
Not thoroughly convinced that there was actually a pantry, she drove past the sign. Suddenly, she heard what she describes as an audible voice coming through the radio saying to turn around. Being obedient to what she believed was a voice from God, she made a U-turn in the middle of the street. The excitement of her passion took over and the fatigue left her body.
Rob Snipes, food pantry director
“OK Lord, you won’t leave me alone. If I get a ticket turning around, you paying it,” said Murray. “When I pulled up to the food pantry I met Pam. I thought a food pantry meant a lot of people and I didn’t see people. I asked what I needed to do to participate and she had me to fill out papers. I wasn’t expecting much, but I got ribs, barbeque sauce, eggs and bacon. I was pleasantly surprised.”
The Feed St. Pete Food pantry located at Pinellas Community Church is supported by Feeding Tampa Bay that suggest in the Bay area, more than 700,000 people are food insecure, meaning they lack consistent and easy access to safe, nutritionally adequate food. The problem isn’t limited only to the homeless. Many who struggle to find adequate food are working adults, children and the elderly.
The food pantry at Pinellas Community Church is the vision of Annette Burke. For years she envisioned feeding needed families in the community and saw it as a responsibility of the church. She met with the pastor and the vision became a reality.
The first week the pantry was open there weren’t many people. As the weeks went on, the lines got longer and longer. One week Murray was number 80 in line, and one of the lead workers her that pantry volunteers don’t have to wait.
“Initially, I didn’t think that I had time to volunteer. Now five years later, I’m still working it.”
Linda Simon, food pantry volunteer
The vision for the pantry has expanded to include sites for Trinity House, Arlington Arbor, Burlington Towers, Greenview Manor, Presbyterian Towers and migrant workers in Wimauma.
In addition to the food program, the church has a Backpack Program, which provides weekend lunch to 75 students from Maximo Elementary School.
Each Tuesday, about 10 volunteers meet at Pinellas Community Church to receive, sort and deliver food to the local families supported by the Feed St. Pete Food pantry program. The pantry is open Tuesdays from 5 – 7 p.m.
Murray never imagined that rushing home from a hard day of work, making an illegal turn from an audible voice through the radio would be the beginning of five years volunteerism. Sometimes changing your routine to something as simple as driving down a different street can change your life.
Since Murray didn’t wait at the stoplight, she finds herself in the right direction feeding families in need.