OKEECHOBEE — Requests for food assistance have increased tremendously over the last few years. Bruce and Mary Anne Swinford of Big Lake Missions Outreach have been feeding the underserved in Okeechobee County for almost 29 years and said it is getting more and more difficult to meet those needs.
Mary Anne said they have seen an increase in people coming to their meal site. "Usually, we have 20, 25, maybe 30. Yesterday, we had 44," said Mary Anne.
"It's because people are getting kicked out of their houses. The landlords raise the rent and they can't afford it. Even raising the rent by $200 is too much for some people," said Bruce.
“In general, donations are down,” said Mary Anne. “We are very thankful for our regular donors though. They keep us going.”
"We're all right," said Bruce. "Donations are down, moneywise, but we've always managed."
The Swinfords have developed a relationship with many businesses and agencies in Okeechobee.
"The Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office always brings extra food to us after they have one of their barbecue lunches," said Bruce. On the other hand, Big Lake Missions donates back to the sheriff's office, supplying canned vegetables or similar items to them when they do the lunches.
Publix has been a very generous and loyal contributor to the mission. Each and every day, Bruce picks up bread, cakes, etc. "They give other things too," said Mary Anne. "You can always count on them." Golden Corral is another regular donor.
Big Lake Missions not only serves meals four days a week at the Methodist Church but also supplies bags of food to families in need. In addition, they send the food out into the community via deputies or other charities who deliver to those in need. "We help probably seven, eight, nine other charities," said Mary Anne.
"We give our overload," said Bruce. "We get boxes of bread every day. We can't use it all here, so we send it to other agencies to hand out."
Feeding the hungry is not the only thing the Swinfords do, they also arrange a huge toy drive each year for Christmas. The Toy/Bike Run usually begins at the Brahman Theater and ends at the Eagle's Club. In 2019, they had 79 bikers participating. “Those bikers know how to give,” she said. She explained that on the morning of the run, everyone meets at the theater and signs in. They each put in a donation of any amount they choose as their entrance to the run. Years ago, they used to stop at a restaurant for lunch, but Mr. Reno suggested providing the lunch for them, and they can donate for the lunch, too. The bikers all liked that idea, so they have been doing it that way ever since. “You just can’t out-give those bikers, especially the Eagles.”
In the past, they used to organize school supply drives, but now, there are so many doing this that they don't do it anymore. They also used to do a big Thanksgiving dinner, and they still cook but now they do a smaller version intended for their usual clientelle. They have even put people up in motels, but they only do this if they know the need is legit, usually when recommended by the sheriff's department. They even allowed a man in need to move into their home and stay for years.
"We're doing OK," said Bruce. "As long as we are able, we are going to keep on helping people."
The following food bank information was obtained on the FoodPantries.org website. Call individual food pantries for more information:
First Baptist Church Okeechobee
309 S.W. Fourth Avenue
Open Monday, Wednesday and Friday 9-noon
Sacred Heart Catholic Church
701 S. W. Sixth Street
First and third Friday of the month 9-11 a.m.
Big Lake Missions Outreach
605 N.W. 16th Street
Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. by appointment only
Okeechobee Church of God
301 N.E. Fourth Avenue
Open first and third Monday of every month 7-11 a.m.
Fort Drum Community Church
863-467-1733 or 863-697-2642
32415 U.S. 441 North
Call for appointment
My Aunt’s House
(Clothing and shoes only)
111 N.E. Second Street
Call for appointment
Our Village Okeechobee
205 N.E. Second Street
Call for more information
Church of God of Prophesy
102 N.W. 10th Street
Open first and third Wednesday of every month
1404 S.W. Second Avenue
Open Tuesdays 9 a.m.- noon.
Treasure Coast Food Bank Trucks
Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center
Call for times and dates
Lighthouse Food Pantry- Community Methodist Church
Hours: Tuesday and Thursday 1 – 3 p.m. ACCESS Program (Western Communities): Call to make an appointment for assistance applying for SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and cash assistance.
First Baptist Church
Food pantry Serves: Palm Beach County. Requirements: Must attend service and then First Baptist Church distributes groceries. Hours: Saturday 7:45 a.m. No referral required.
Mount Calvary Baptist Church
Soup Kitchen Hours: Monday 9 – 11 a.m. Pantry Hours: Monday 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. hot meals.
New Birth Deliverance Baptist Church Food Pantry
Provides a food pantry Hours: The 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month noon to 2 p.m.
C.L. Brumback Health Center- Florida Department of Health PBC
Farm Coordinating Council
Hours: Wednesday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saint John First Missionary Baptist Pantry and Soup Kitchen
Soup Kitchen Hours: 3rd Saturday of each month Breakfast: 9:30 a.m.
The Glades Initiative
Hours: Wednesday 10 – 11a.m.
Provides a food pantry. Serves: Collier. Documentation Required: Proof of residence Pantry Hours: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Catholic Charities of Collier County
Provides a food pantry. Serves Collier County residents with need. Pantry hours: Mondays through Thursdays 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. and Friday: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Salvation Army of LaBelle, 133 N. Bridge Street
Food pantry is open every Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 3 p.m. (if food is still available)
Christ Central Church, 813 East Hickpochee Ave.
Food pantry is open every Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon.
LaBelle Sports Complex, 785 Foreey Drive
Food distribution is the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month from 10 a.m. to noon. Next distribution is July 27.
Feeding With Hope Mobile Food Pantry
1200 W. C. Owens Ave.
863 983 2274
208 Deane Duff Street
Seventh Day Adventist Church Food Distribution Center
545 E Obispo Avenue
Iglesia Misionear Mundial
217 E. Aztec Avenue
331 W. Osceola Avenue
Harlem Garden Apartments Food Distribution
700 Harlem Tenants Circle
The Jesus Church Senior Commodity Box
911 Evercane Road
La Iglesia de Dios
330 S. Estribo Street
House of Hope
Provides a food pantry. Serves Martin County. Documentation Required: Picture ID for adults and SS cards for children Pantry hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Indiantown Food Pantry
The Indiantown Food Pantry is located at Evangelical Haitian Church of the Nazarene between S.W. Tyler Avenue and S.W. Jackson Avenue, on the east side of SR 710. Hours: Tuesday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Clients may go directly to the nearest food pantry to receive emergency food assistance if they have not visited the pantry in the past three months. For persons visiting the food pantries from families of four or less, bring photo identification for the person vising the pantry. For persons of families of five or more, bring photo identification for the person visiting the food pantry and some form of identification for all other family members.
Hours: Tuesday 9 a.m. – noon and 2 – 5 p.m.
Grace Family Church Food Pantry
Located 15-79 miles from Indiantown. Hours: 1st & 3rd Saturday of each month.
Saint Mary’s Catholic Church
Provides a food pantry. Serves Glades Area, Palm Beach County. Documentation Required: ID or bill to prove Pahokee or Canal Point residency. Pantry Hours: Tuesday and Thursday 9 – 11 a.m.
Church of the Harvest
Provides a food pantry. Serves: all the Glades Communities
Pantry Hours: Mondays through Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
New Hope Charities
Provides a food pantry. Serves: Glades Area of Palm Beach County Pantry Hours: Monday through Friday 9am - 5pm
Point of Life Fellowship
10947 State Road 78
Open second and fourth Saturday of each month from 8:30-10 a.m.
Saint Joseph the Worker Catholic Church
24065 State Road 27
Open on Friday from noon to 1 p.m.
Important: Please call the food pantries to confirm the hours have not changed and to obtain additional information.
All of the food pantries accept donations.