Optimism is served at this Altamonte Springs food pantry following a devastating fire

Pantry manager, Herbert Bouey, sees a comeback not a setback

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. – Herbert Bouey has been keeping things moving at the Apostolic Church of Jesus food pantry in Altamonte Springs for decades.

When a fire destroyed the building last week, it put the mission to help feed his neighbors in jeopardy.

But this week’s Getting Results Award winner used his positive attitude and work ethic to keep people fed.

“I got a call at home saying the church was on fire,” Bouey said.

He rushed down to find the fire was actually in the food pantry, a small building next to the chapel.

A look inside the one-room building reveals charred cinder block walls and broken drywall hanging from the ceiling. Refrigerators are covered in a mix of gray and black dust and a stack of canned goods has partially collapsed onto the floor. Their labels are burnt beyond recognition. The cans bent and rusted from water sprayed by firefighters.

Bouey believes it started from a window A/C unit.

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Despite the devastating setback, he takes it all in with a sense of optimism.

“I’ve learned that no one is untouchable,” he said. “Last week at this time, we had a building but today we don’t. But the thing is we haven’t stopped. We’re not going to stop.”

In fact, the next morning Bouey was stretching rubber gloves over his 73-year-old hands so he could help distribute fresh fruits and vegetables to dozens of clients. He and a group of volunteers spent the morning unloading hundreds of food boxes delivered by Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

“We had a fire Monday night and Tuesday morning we were giving out food,” Bouey said. “We’ve been doing it all along. I have not had one volunteer not show up for the work we continue to do after the fire.”

Bouey first started volunteering here 22 years ago. He recalled the day he first saw the church bishop wrestling with cardboard boxes in the parking lot.

“He was at the back of a van trying to unload and I started helping him. I’ve been helping and unloading ever since,” Bouey said.

Volunteer Chasity Ferguson said Bouey’s work ethic and positive attitude are an inspiration.

“He’s a very hard worker and someone who does not give up easily,” Ferguson said. “He’s here early in the morning and he’s the last one that leaves.”

Volunteer Stephanie Stevens agreed.

“Mr. Herbert, he’s just one of those people. He sees positive in everything,” she said.

Bouey and the rest of the volunteers know that people depend on them. The pantry was started about 30 years ago and has earned a reputation for consistently providing food in Seminole County.

“There’s a need and the need is escalating,” Bouey said. “It’s all about trying to serve the people.”

The pantry distributed more than 1.8 million meals last year, earning them the Grocery Alliance Partner of the Year Award from Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. Bouey was given a lifetime achievement award in 2021.

“They’re getting results,” Second Harvest Food Bank Communications and Storytelling Manager, Erika Spence said. “I was looking at their numbers yesterday and I was blown away. That’s an impressive amount of food from such a small building.”

Spence said news of the fire was upsetting.

“It took my breath away when I saw it,” she said. “My heart sank because I know this church and ministry mean so much to the neighbors in Altamonte Springs.”

Bouey and the team of volunteers’ resilience doesn’t surprise her.

“When I think of the times I met Herbert, he’s one of the hardest working, committed individuals fighting hunger,” Spence said. “He sees a problem and he wants to fix it. That means putting food on someone’s table.”

The building is now boarded up, plywood covers the window that held the A/C unit. Bouey said he’s not sure how long it will take to rebuild but he’s confident it will come back even better.

“Life happens, sometimes for the better,” Bouey said. “We’ll probably come back with a better building, who knows, probably give out more food.”

A GoFundMe has been set up to help offset restoration costs.

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About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.