LONGWOOD, Fla. – The Sharing Center is the most comprehensive social services hub in Seminole County.
At one point during the pandemic, it was becoming a challenge to fulfill its mission to help those in need.
This week’s Getting Results Award winners were part of a small group of volunteers who helped keep the assistance flowing.
Along a busy stretch of 17/92 in Longwood, a small crowd gathers in front of a converted shopping plaza.
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Matt Davies waits on a bench in front of a large plate-glass window.
“There’s no other place that I know of in Seminole County that does this,” Davies said as he waited for his laundry and to take a shower.
Davies comes to The Sharing Center once a week. The out-of-work heavy equipment operator has been taking temp work and living in hotels when he can afford it.
“I come here when I can when I’m not working,” Davies said.
The Sharing Center has been providing wrap-around services for people like Davies for 35 years.
“Think of it like a triage,” Margaux Pagan, Director of Marketing and Innovation said. “Whether it’s a temporary experience with poverty or a longer-term situation, what we do is we meet someone on their journey.”
The Sharing Center offers everything from basic necessities like food, showers and laundry services for the homeless to employment help, mental health counseling and legal aid.
To do that, they rely on a group of dedicated volunteers.
The nonprofit also runs a food pantry that provides groceries for up to 35 families a day. A number that went up considerably during the pandemic, a time when many of the volunteers couldn’t help.
“During the pandemic, as you can imagine, a lot of people fearfully and rightfully so, had to tell us that they could no longer serve,” Pagan said. “We had two volunteers that did stick with us every single day.”
Marsha Burns and Christina Lupi held down the fort.
“They were the fort. They were the fort,” Pagan said. “They were distributing food, they were packing bags, they were here every single day and when we started to get short-staffed they really became a number one extension of our team.”
“I guess I’m not easily frightened,” Burns said with a smile. “No, it had to be done. People had to have their food.”
Christina Lupi started volunteering because of the pandemic.
“They were starting to lose older folks that didn’t want to be out in public. I just didn’t have the same fears. I was happy to be able to come out and help.”
Lupi and Burns both volunteer in the pantry warehouse filing grocery carts for needy families. They say operations moved outside during the worst of the pandemic and that’s why they felt safe.
“We wore masks and it was outside,” Lupi remembers. “It wasn’t close quarters so it didn’t bother me.”
Pagan said that while it may not have been a big deal for them, the staff of The Sharing Center and the clients who needed service appreciated it.
“It was inspiring,” Pagan said. “Every morning I would see them and I just wanted to clap for them. I could not imagine making that decision, how effortless they looked. they said ‘This is the time I need to be here.”
As Davies sat in the shade and waited for his phone to charge and his laundry to dry, he took a moment to recognize the volunteers who help.
“They’re greatly appreciated,” Davies said. “It’s really great. Without this place, a lot of us wouldn’t survive out here.”
The Sharing Center is in need of more volunteers. You can register here.