Big Lake Mission still operating but RiteLife now taking over hot meals

Posted 3/25/24

After more than 30 years of feeding the homeless, Bruce and Mary Anne Swinford are reluctantly giving up their meal site.

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Big Lake Mission still operating but RiteLife now taking over hot meals


OKEECHOBEE — After more than 30 years of feeding the homeless and those less fortunate, Bruce and Mary Anne Swinford are reluctantly giving up their meal site.

Though they will no longer be cooking and serving hot meals every day, Mary Anne was quick to clarify Big Lake Mission is NOT closing its doors. They will still have a food pantry and will also continue the annual Christmas Bike Run.

Bruce and Mary Anne started the Big Lake Mission Christmas of 1995 after Pam Thomas, who ran Park Street Mission, went overseas on the mission field.

Though they started by giving Christmas gifts to children, it was not long before Mary Anne felt God was calling them to feed the hungry. They started with sack lunches, but Mary Anne just never felt good about that. She wanted people to have a hot lunch, and she loves to cook, so she started cooking hot meals six days a week. In recent years, they cut back to four days a week though. For the first five years, Bruce drove a semi-truck in order to finance the mission until they felt they could prove to the town they could be trusted and were responsible. When donations began coming in, he was able to sell the truck and stay home to work full-time in the mission.

In the last few years,  Bruce has struggled with poor health but despite this, they have both continued to carry on with their calling. Last month, Bruce found himself hospitalized and in ICU for 10 days, and Mary Anne was by his side every moment. He was finally able to come home, but the couple decided it would be for the best to let the feeding site go in hope that someone else would pick it up, and “Praise God,” she said. “RiteLife has decided to take it on.”

Barbara Moody-Holbrook, the CEO of RiteLife, said when their organization heard the Swinfords were struggling, they knew they wanted to help. They just needed to figure out how.

At first, the Methodist Church stepped up to the plate and took care of feeding the regulars who turned up at the meal site each day, but they knew that could not be a long-term solution.

Moody-Holbrook said they will be serving meals at their location at 1:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Several of the Big Lake Mission volunteers will continue to be involved.

Our Village will be helping with food storage. Chobee Clubhouse will be supplying apprentices to help with cooking, serving, cleaning, etc.

“We started with five people the first day and are up to 40 now,” said Moody-Holbrook. “It’s a beautiful thing. It’s great that we are able to help out and all work together.”

The name of the new feeding mission will be called RiteLife Tribe Vibe.

Moody-Holbrook said they have several agencies working on grants to help support the effort.

Bruce and Mary Anne estimate they have helped more than 25,000 people a year for the last 30 years in Okeechobee in one way or another, and they have no intention of stopping now. Big Lake Mission is still open for business and can be reached at 863-763-5725.

If you know anyone who needs a hot meal, send them up to RiteLife Services at 202 N.E. Second Street. Suite 5.

“We pray for Bruce and Mary Anne every day and appreciate them very much,” said Moody-Holbrooke.

Big Lake Mission, RiteLife