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West St. Pete food pantry may be forced to close

Bill DeYoung

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Benay Alperin works at the Love Thy Neighbor Community Market. Photo: Bill DeYoung.

The trickle-down effect might leave a west St. Pete food pantry with barren shelves.

Because the Pesky Pelican brew pub next door ceased operations Dec. 31, the Love Thy Neighbor Community Market, which has been distributing food and other necessities for free since 2022, may be forced to close its own doors.

Faced with crushing debt, Pesky Pelican owner Dan Pemberton shut down the neighborhood watering hole over the New Years’s weekend after seven mostly-successful years.

Pemberton had also been paying the rent on the 400-square-foot storefront occupied, for 16 months, by the Love Thy Neighbor Community Market.

The small, undistinguished pantry doesn’t charge for anything.

Joanne Braccio

“Most food pantries, you have to pick out certain things,” explained owner Joanne Braccio. “And a lot of time they give you stuff that you’re never gonna use. I wanted it to be a market where people came and picked what they wanted, not like a cookie-cutter where everybody gets the same thing whether you like it or not.

“It’s kind of like, we’re all a family – what do you need, what do you want and how can we help?”

Food – including fruits, vegetables, bread, canned goods and other perishables – is donated by area grocery stores and restaurants, and by people in the neighborhood.

Braccio also takes in donations of things like paper towels, toilet paper and laundry soap. “We try to get the things that the community needs to be able to live without having to worry about going without those things,” she said.

“People will come in and say ‘I got extra stuff at my house, and I thought you could use it.’ They’ll say ‘the doctor put me on a diet, and I can’t eat this stuff – so I thought I’d give it to you.’ I’ve got senior citizens who do the buy one, get one free and they say ‘I wanted to help you somehow, so here’s the one I got free.’”

Braccio, the founder and owner of the home-cleaning service Maid to Order FL, got into the business of charity after both her brother and sister died of cancer. Maid 2 Order FL began cleaning cancer patients’ homes for free. “What I found out, once I started cleaning, is that a lot of them don’t have food,” she said. “They can’t pay their bills.

“I had friends who began helping them with rent and mortgages; the financial stuff. But there was nobody collecting food.”

Food storage for Love Thy Neighbor began in a small room in a local church; soon the homeless were coming around. “Then I was like ‘OK, I’ve got homeless people coming here. I’ve got to help them.’ And one thing led to another.”

One thing led to Dan Pemberton, and the space he wasn’t using next to the Pesky Pelican.

Starting at day one, he paid the food pantry’s rent and utility bills. And despite his own financial hardships, he paid for Braccio and company to stay in the space until the end of January.

After that, Braccio isn’t entirely sure what’s going to happen.

She has started a GoFundMe page (accessible here), and offers to help in larger ways have been talked about.

She might look into renting the adjacent, 300-square-foot unit Pemberton was using as an office, for a small thrift shop, open one or two days a week, to help offset the bills.

Braccio receives donations of clothing from local retailers – returns, for the most part – which she distributes through Mustard Seed, New Directions, St. Vincent de Paul, People That Love, Reach St. Pete and other organizations that help the homeless and others in needs.

In a perfect world, she could store the  retail clothing in the back. “So I will have a place for them to come and pick the stuff out; they can even it try it on,” she said.

“Because most of the time I just drop off boxes of the stuff they give me to these agencies, so they can use it for the homeless, or for their people who are coming in that have nothing.”

In the thrift store, she could sell the clothing and other items Love Thy Neighbor frequently receives as private donations. “At Maid 2 Order,” she said, “my clients are always giving me clothing.”

All that is to be determined.

“By the grace of God,” Braccio said, “I know that I am going to get through this.”

Love Thy Neighbor Community Market is at 913 72nd St N.

Coming Wednesday: The undoing of Dan Pemberton’s Pesky Pelican.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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