BRANDON, Fla. -- To be a fly on the wall at ECHO in Brandon is to watch a well-oiled machine as the volunteers organize clothing donations and distribute food to people in need.
Executive Director Eleanor Saunders says they had it down to a science. All 100 volunteers at the place that stands for Emergency Care Help Organization were a huge help that kept the nonprofit going.
And then the pandemic hit.
"We had about 100 weekly volunteers that would come and serve with us each week. I would say 96% of them are retirement age so in Mid-March they were sent home for their safety," says Saunders.
That put the weight of ECHO on the shoulders on nearly a dozen staff members. That was not realistic to stay afloat long term. And that’s when they realized it was time to lean on a new generation of volunteers just waiting in the wings to help their community.
"It’s a good experience volunteering and being able to work with other kids my age that have the same mindset to help people in the community," says 15-year-old Sakura Hartsfield.
She is now part of ECHO’s youth leadership program along with 49 other teens.
They are now filling the gap left behind by the regular volunteers who just can’t be here right now.
"I know that they were starting to struggle with people because the older people had to stay home just so they didn’t risk any chance," says Jonah Stough.
Every week, fifty teens sort out food and clothing donations and then hand them out to residents from unincorporated Hillsborough County. People who are just trying to rebound out of one of our nation’s toughest times. "This greater Brandon/Riverview community is so generous and they have taken care of us and their children are now taking care of us and we’re so thankful," says Saunders.