It's been a long time coming, but Stacey Efaw, director of the Emergency Care Help Organization in Brandon, never doubted that the newly opened ECHO Client Service Center would, indeed, open its doors.
To celebrate that crowning achievement of a 25-year mission, volunteers, supporters and clients will be in attendance at the center's ribbon-cutting Sept. 28.
There, starting at 3 p.m., a town will celebrate another grand step forward in the ECHO undertaking, started as a community mission to feed and clothe neighors who fall on tough times because of emergency situations.
"My vision was to have a one-stop place in Brandon to help them here or to guide them to the exact place they need to go," Efaw said. "We can give them food and clothing but they have other needs and I felt at times that we were just shipping them off to some other place."
At the center, Efaw noted, clients can learn about and sign up electronically for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps; the Temporary Cash Assistance Program; Medicaid; and Healthy Kids insurance.
In addition, the plan is to work with Hillsborough Coummunity College and others to provide workforce training and classes and to provide counseling and assistance to better meet the needs of clients who find themselves in dire situations because of tough times, emergency situations or an ailing economy.
There are two main reasons why people come to ECHO.
- "They don't have a job," Efaw said.
- "The second biggest problem is they don't have food stamps. We're working on the food stamps and the work issue is a big issue and hopefully we'll be able to help somewhat on that, too."
In effect, the client service center is a resource center, aimed to facilitate what has always been the job of ECHO — to help people land on their feet until the times get better.
ECHO covers an area served by 13 ZIP codes, encompassing Brandon and the Greater Brandon communities of Dover, Gibsonton, Lithia, Riverview, Seffner and Valrico.
Efaw said ECHO is holding steady, serving 11,000 clients a year, which is a dramatic increase from the approximately 7,000 people who were served in 2007, before the economy took a major dive.
Before the soft opening of the center in May, clients would come to ECHO, at 507 North Parsons Ave., and sign in to use the food bank and clothes closet. ECHO would assist where they could in helping these clients learn about other resources, governmental or community, that could meet their additional needs.
Now, with the service center, there is a targeted effort to give clients a one-stop shopping venue for getting the help they need, including computers from which they can sign up for aid programs, such as food stamps.
Efaw noted that with today's requirement that registering for food stamps in Florida needs to be done online, it helps to give people who have no access to computers otherwise, a chance to do so in an inviting atmosphere.
Efaw noted the following key development in getting the ECHO Client Service Center launched:
- "This is the room in which we used to store our food," she said. Now, Feeding America has offered to store ECHO's food. That means at any one time, ECHO only needs to have about a two-week supply of food on hand to meet the needs of drop-in clients. Donated food is picked up when needed and returned to ECHO also as needed. That cleared up the food bank storage room for its new purpose.
- ECHO won an office makeup, with Facebook "likes" lodged by community members and friends, from Refurbished Office Furniture (ROF) in Tampa. "We made a video about ECHO and people voted for it," Efaw said. "We got the most votes, and $15,000 worth of office furniture and design work."
- The color scheme for the room mirror's ECHO's logo colors, which also are used on ECHO's Web site.
- A $10,000 grant from the Allegheny Foundation will help pay for the hiring of a social worker.
- A Florida Blue grant, from Blue Cross/Blue Shield will help pay for a healthy living class.
- Hillsborough Community College will be sending at any one time three interns trained in social work.