By YVETTE C. HAMMETT
Less than a year in, the Emergency Care Help Organization location in Riverview is serving up to 40 in-need families a week with food, clothing and other life necessities.
“We’ve had a really successful adventure here,” said Steven McKinnon, director of ECHO’s South County Center. “We did our grand opening in October, and we have steadily grown in client services to the point that two weeks ago we hit an all-time high. We served 40 families just last week.”
ECHO started out 32 years ago as a place to go when fire destroyed a home or parents lost their jobs. Through the years, it has expanded its services to also help out a county shelter of men transitioning from jail to work, offering classes for a GED diploma and other needs, and to open once a week to the county’s homeless, who can get food and clothing.
It also helps seniors on fixed incomes who may need some donated food when they are having to decide between food and medication, McKinnon said.
ECHO serves all of east Hillsborough County except for Apollo Beach, Ruskin, Sun City Center and Wimauma. Its desire is to include those areas for services, but to do that requires donor participation and fundraising, McKinnon said. ECHO is not there yet.
The nonprofit began operations at its location on Parsons Avenue in Brandon, but in recent years that location has been bulging at the seams.
ECHO executive director Eleanor Saunders looked at the data and discovered that 25% of the organization’s clients come from south Hillsborough.
She worked with the county, which found space for ECHO at 7807 Capitano St., near Riverview Elementary School. The nonprofit received a grant from Bank of America for startup costs and a center director, leading to the opening of the second location.
The Riverview community has embraced ECHO, McKinnon said. Volunteer Barry Bedrosian, who lives in the Lucaya Lake Club community, is an example.
McKinnon calls Bedrosian one of ECHO’s angels. He shows up regularly with loads of clothes and food collected by his community.
“I moved here from New York in 2016 and I started a business networking group in my community at Lucaya Lake Club,” Bedrosian said. “In January, we decided to have a community business expo and wanted to pick a local nonprofit community assistance organization to support.”
ECHO was the perfect fit, he said. “We donated all the registration fees from the business expo to ECHO and held a food drive at that event. We collected a ton of food, and after that event we began collecting food, clothing and household items for ECHO in Riverview.”
Bedrosian delivers the community’s donated items to ECHO almost on a weekly basis.
“It makes me feel good to live in a community with such generous people and to give to such a great emergency help organization like ECHO,” he said. “To date this year, we’ve donated about 400 pounds of food and countless boxes of clothing and household items.”
ECHO has been so busy handing out that food and clothing that it is likely to begin opening soon on Mondays, McKinnon said. For now, the Riverview location is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
ECHO has seven funding streams, from private donations to Feed the Bay each spring, when thousands shop for ECHO, to foundation grants.
Many times, cash donations are used to buy meat and fresh produce, given out with nonperishables to families who can get groceries for one week.
To learn more about ECHO and how to get involved, visit echofl.org.