HIGH SPRINGS – With 36.5 million Americans suddenly unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have seen both their income and savings disappear. It becomes a challenge to decide what bills or necessities can be done without. Mortgage or rent, utilities, food or medical all are important, but food is essential.
Many individuals and organizations have stepped in to donate or volunteer for food giveaways and deliveries. The Alachua County school system has provided over a million meals to school kids during the pandemic. Farm Share and other charity food distribution organizations travel the state bringing semi-trucks of food to communities.
Locally, many churches or community organizations have donated food or money, distributing the food to people in cars lined up in parking lots, masked and never coming in direct contact with the drivers. Most of these organizations hold these drives weekly or bi-weekly, but one small ministry in High Springs is making an effort daily to provide for those in need.
Every day, Pastor Sammy Nelson has overseen the distribution of donated food to families in need with children. He usually ran the distribution in his small downtown ministry, Witness of Christ (WOC), on Main Street in High Springs. But the Covid-19 has brought a bigger challenge. “I have seen a huge rise in families in need. People coming to the food distribution has increased 100 percent or more, but you have to meet the challenge to help them,” Nelson said.
The pastor is a big man with a powerful build but a soft, calm voice. He was born in Archer and spent 23 years in the Army as a Military Policeman. During his service he participated in Desert Storm and retired as a First Sergeant.
During his time in the Army he also had other duties as a father and a pastor. He and his wife of 35 years raised 10 children and have seven grandchildren. They share both a strong religious belief and a love for children as well. While raising 10 of their own, they also founded a ministry for children. Nelson made use of the Army's education benefits and received a degree in law enforcement and a Bachelor’s Degree in sociology. Once he retired, he became a full-time student and received a Master’s in Divinity and a Doctorate in Ministry.
Ten years ago, Nelson and his wife opened a storefront where they could offer after-school services to struggling parents. The ministry also collects food for the children and struggling families. Most of it comes from donations by individuals, farms and food stores such as Hitchcock’s and Publix. The biggest provider is Bread of the Mighty Food Bank in Gainesville. Three days a week, Nelson would go to each location, as well as some farms, to gather the food donations.
With the increasing need caused by the pandemic, Nelson searched for more sources and sponsors to meet the skyrocketing demand. He also needed a bigger place to distribute and worked with the City of High Springs to distribute from a parking lot behind Main Street with police to direct the traffic.
The ministry still does smaller distributions from the building three times a week, but the other is a bigger operation with trailers full of food pallets. On May 16 the WOC held its largest distribution with 14 pallets supplying multiple boxes of food to the long line of cars winding through the parking lot. Nelson, along with volunteers from his ministry, all wearing masks and gloves, loaded each car's trunk with boxes holding a variety of food including fresh vegetables, cheese, milk, snacks and chips. “We will be here and providing for those who go hungry as long as the need exists,” Nelson said as he loaded another box in a car.
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