PALMETTO — Sharon Johnson is a seasonal worker at Woody’s Tomato Corp. packing plant, but at this time of year, when there are no tomatoes to pack, she depends on unemployment and food stamps to get by.
She also is a grateful client of the Mount Carmel Resource Center, where Tuesday, the 53-year-old Palmetto resident was applying for a computer class. The center, which operates in a ramshackle converted house across from the church of the same name, is close enough to her home that she can walk there.
“If this wasn’t here, I’d have to get a couple of buses,” she said.
However, the handy, friendly center at 1314 Second Ave. W. is in need of financial help and will close by year’s end if none is forthcoming, according to Joyce Dukes, its assistant director.
Church members who have been its primary supporters over the years are now seeing their resources dwindle. Combined with an increase in demand due to a poor economy, the center is at a breaking point.
“A lot of our members have lost their jobs,” said Dukes. “It’s just getting harder to keep up, with our clients increasing.”
The center has recently been tending to 80 clients more per weekday, twice the number it handles under ordinary circumstances, she said.
“The resource center has been supported primarily through funding from the Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, but funding is now at a critical level,” wrote director Shirley Pearson in a press release; she was on vacation Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
The number of clients seeking a GED class, providing the equivalent of a high school diploma, is at the highest level since the center’s inception, Pearson wrote.
With a staff of mostly volunteers who are also church members, the center manages to serve food from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each weekday; does FCAT tutoring; offers classes in English for Spanish-speakers; is launching a new computer class; and hosts a mobile unit from Jobs, Etc. that arrives on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, Dukes said.
It also gives away food bags to the hungry on a regular and emergency basis; supplies holiday turkeys and food baskets gathered by partners from Manatee and Sarasota through The Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program; and helps the needy apply for food stamps and unemployment insurance.
Dukes sees many who say they do not have a job and are hungry, or seniors whose Social Security income is too high to qualify for food stamps, but who are spending so much on medical bills that they are without enough to eat.
“A lot of them have spent their savings,” said Dukes. “Their kids are on drugs, and they’re raising grandkids.”
The center does its best to make everyone feel welcome with a cup of coffee and a pastry. A table in what once was a carport was piled with day-old bread donated by a local supermarket, available for the taking.
Sharon Jacques, 49, of Palmetto, a certified nurse’s assistant who had lost her job, was applying for the upcoming computer class.
She sat among some of the boxy, ancient computers in a former bedroom where the class would take place.
“I want to try, so I can have a knowledge of it,” she said. “Everything is going to computers.”
Although she had been applying for jobs, she had been told by employers that they were not hiring, she said.
The center functions as her backup, as it does also for Sheila Render, 52, a disabled Palmetto resident, who is thankful for its humble generosity.
“When I haven’t got any food, I come here, so I hope they get some funding,” she said.
For more information, call (941) 981-5354.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.