In 2012, the Brevard County School Board voted to close Riverview Elementary School in Titusville due to shrinking enrollment and budget cuts but this week’s Getting Results Award winner has given the campus new life and a new mission.
Gina Stanford arrived on campus early last Friday morning. “This used to be the cafeteria,” she said, looking out on a crowded, busy dining hall.
Volunteer, Pooja Amin was one of the dozens preparing for a busy day. She was filling grocery bags with canned goods.
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“It’s the work before the work,” Stanford laughs as she explains what goes into making this one of the biggest food pantries in Brevard County.
“We’re here to hand out a lot of food to thousands of people today. Thousands,” Stanford says it twice for emphasis.
Stanford is the founder of Hummingbird Pantry which serves North Brevard. By the end of the day the pantry will have distributed more than 90,000 pounds of food to more than 4,000 families. On many weeks the numbers are much higher.
“Right now the economy is not that good. Because of COVID-19 people cannot work,” Amin said. “It’s hard for so many people and this is the best way to help them I think.”
“Food pantries used to be viewed as 'those people,” Stanford said. “Now that mentality has switched from those people to ‘I.’ I now have to find a food pantry. I now have to go.”
Stanford echoes Amin’s thoughts. She says more people are finding her pantry due to economic hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s terrible, It’s horrible,” Stanford said. “But thank goodness we’re here.”
Stanford has been here since 2012. She was working at the VPK program at Riverview when she was asked to help hand out snacks to kids returning from Thanksgiving break. She couldn’t understand why so many were so hungry. She found out many didn’t get much to eat over the long holiday break.
That’s when she started the Hummingbird Pantry.
“It didn’t happen with all 8,000 families. It started with 45 then grew over time,” Stanford said.
And as it grew, Stanford needed more room. Eventually she returned to the campus where it all started.
“We actually started because I saw starving kids right here in this cafeteria at Riverview School,” Stanford said looking around the large room. “So it kind of went full circle for me.”
The pantry is open three Fridays a month.
Over the years Stanford has worked out most of the logistics to efficiently feed such a high volume of people. When everything is sorted and ready to distribute she logs on to Facebook and uses social media to announce a staging location.
With an operation this big, the clients are required to meet at a separate location and register before they can enter the food line.
Sherina Sayyah is one of the first in the queue.
“This is a blessing, a big blessing,” Sayyah said as she waited in her white Nissan Sentra. Sayyah emptied the trunk and back seat so she would have room for everything. She’s picking up for herself and three other people.
Sayyah nominated Stanford for the News 6 Getting Results Award.
“She doesn’t have to do this,” Sayyah said. “This is huge. She’s getting results. I’ll put it like that,” she laughs.
Sayyah’s car snakes through the staging field along with hundreds of others. By the time the last family dives through the sun has set and Stanford and the other volunteers will be tired.
“We’ve kept them healthy through a pandemic, through hurricanes, through government shutdowns and just everyday,” Stanford reflects. “We’re here and that’s what makes me feel good. No matter what, we’re still here.”