Wimauma mission hoping for more miracles to help area migrant families

WIMAUMA -- The belief at Good Samaritan Mission is that miracles happen every day.

Considering it's experiencing financial problems and is operating on a tight budget, the mission, which sits on 10 acres near the Hillsborough and Manatee County line and serves hundreds of low-income families, many of whom are migrant families that work on farms in the area, officials are hoping for more miracles.

At least 10 percent of the families that use the mission, mostly Hispanic, work and live in Manatee County, specifically Palmetto and Myakka City. Every Tuesday, nearly 300 families collect food at the mission. Every week, it hands out free clothes.

"Our hope is God will provide our daily bread," said the Rev. Bill Cruz, executive director of the mission.

On average for the past three months, the mission's bills have averaged $43,500 a month, but the mission has managed to make payroll and stayed current on its bills. Donations, which range from $5 to $1,000, arrive daily, allowing the mission to pay its expenses. When the pantry is bare, someone will donate enough food to last a month.

"We totally depend on God, so we never know what's going to happen," Cruz said.

Over the past few years, Cruz said the mission has been forced to draw from its investment account, which has roughly $50,000 remaining. "We are meeting all of our responsibilities," Cruz said.

Emma Gonzalez, 35, has used and served at the mission since she was 7. Since 2006, she has been a employee, working in the clothing drive department. She said the community couldn't afford to see the mission close.

"It's a lot of help," she said. "A lot of people go through hard times."

DeAnna Bescardi was one of those people years ago. A widow and mother of six, she visited the mission with a friend. On her third visit, Cruz's wife, Theresa, asked her to become a volunteer.

Bescardi now operates the home school program at the mission and next week, will wed another volunteer, Wesley Havilend. Bill Cruz will walk her down the aisle.

"God touches people when they come here," Bescardi said.

The mission is a community partner with the Department of Children and Families. At the mission, case worker Maria Molina keeps files for nearly 3,000 children and adults to help them find resources around the state. In January of 2011, the mission reopened a preschool academy, which now educates 30 children ages 3-5. Parents with 4-year-olds who can't afford tuition, which costs $50 per week, can apply for Florida's Voluntary Prekindergarten program. The school-year program includes 540 hours of instructional time and the summer program consists of 300 instructional hours. The academy gives free dental cleanings to the children and all supplies are through donations. Next August, the Good Samaritan Academy will offer a kindergarten class free of charge to 10 children.

"It gives high quality education for a community where there is none," said Sarah Ashe, principal of the academy.

In 2009, Cruz became executive director and cut a massive amount of expenses which led to $95,000 in savings for 2011. The mission sold a house it was renting to families, which enabled it to payoff the loan to the house and a triple-wide mobile guest home, which was costing $1,700 per month combined. The mission rents its chapel to a congregation for $25. Cruz said the congregation had previously paid $700 to use another church,

"That's not what we're about," he said.

After cutting expenses, the mission still had to dip into its savings to cover nearly $72,000 in bills last year, but Cruz said they are far from closing the doors.

In fact, hope remains.

The mission recently held a fundraiser that drew 700 guests and netted thousands of dollars. Cruz is proud to say the church has not been reduced to taking out additional loans, and he and his staff are confident good things will happen, as they always do.

"Its a miracle," Cruz said. "Miracles happen every day."

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Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Follow on Twitter @_1NickWilliams.