Project 7 to Impact Poverty in Wimauma, FL

In a study a few years ago, a group of poor families was asked to describe poverty.[1] This is what they said:

“Poverty is an empty heart.”

“It’s not knowing your abilities or strengths.”

“Not being able to make progress in your life.”

“Poverty is isolation.”

“It’s having no hope and no belief in yourself.”

Those of us who fight poverty describe it in more material terms – lack of food, housing, education and healthcare – and these are all important, because they meet the physical needs of poor people. These services provide the opportunity for those in poverty to address their emotional and spiritual feelings as they learn to improve their lives.

To us, poverty is also a call to action to change the world so that many more people may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and good health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities.

Wholesome Community Ministries is answering that call to alleviate poverty and its negative effects in Wimauma, FL.

This will not be a “band-aid” approach: We are dedicated to an outcome of better lives for all people, and to ensuring that individuals, families, children and seniors have the food, healthcare, education, recreation and support they need.

An Area of Poverty and Despair

Wimauma, Florida is an unincorporated community in Hillsborough County. The statistics there are very discouraging:


6,373 residents of Wimauma, up 50% from 2000 Census

Median household income down 25% from $35,114 to $25,656

50% of residents have less than high school educations

Fewer than 10% of parents enroll children in preschool programs

**2010 Census, Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County,, U.S. Department of Agriculture

And, unlike most communities in our area, Wimauma has limited healthcare facilities, and unfortunately no facilities to address behavioral and mental health. It is a “food desert,” with little access to healthy, affordable food; and rampant poverty in some areas has intensified health issues such as obesity, diabetes, pulmonary- and cardiac-related issues.

A Wholesome Solution

Pastor Carlos Irizarry, raised in Puerto Rico and trained as a faith community nurse and health coach, is the founder and executive director of all social services at Wholesome Community Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit organization operating in the migrant farmworker area of South Hillsborough County.

For 7 years this grassroots organization has been lifting up and transforming the lives of some of the area’s lowest income families through a holistic approach to health and wellness of spirit, mind and body. ALSO: awarded 2013 Health Care Hero Award by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Wholesome Community Ministries’ goal is to become a hub of service to the surrounding neighborhoods: it’s a trusted, safe environment where children, families and individuals can get help and make life-changing decisions to improve their health and gain self-sufficiency.

“Unlike other service organizations that come and go, despite the well-documented priorities here, we have the commitment, staying power and drive to provide disadvantaged people of Wimauma with the resources they need to improve their lives,” said Pastor Irizarry.

While individual programs have served thousands of people at Wholesome Church for a number of years, the vision is to create a campus on the grounds of the church to provide the following programs and services for Wimauma residents in need:

A commercial kitchen for food preparation and training, along with an organic vegetable garden

A center to provide affordable and accessible medical care and healthcare education and coaching (currently conducting periodic health fairs and other health-related events at the church)

Affordable nursery care and preschool learning for Wimauma children

An after-school and weekend youth center for older children, including a creative arts program and soccer field,

A thrift shop to provide clothing, furniture and other needs, and to financially support the whole initiative, and

An information and family resource center in front to register visitors and refer them to needed services.

This schematic reflects the scope of services that will be available to Wimauma residents in need of assistance:

Wholesome Families Begin with Healthy, Happy Children

Wimauma’s children of today are our community’s leaders of tomorrow. The stakes are high, but we can and should create ways in which to give them brighter futures.

The Wholesome Families Initiative features a youth center for all ages where our children will be assured a safe place to spend their after-school and weekend time. Programs and activities include tutoring, sports (including a gym), concerts, classes and meals from the kitchen.

It will be a place of safety and support and, for older children, with the opportunity to grow through volunteering in the thrift shop and organic garden. A preschool will open on church property in 2017.

Wholesome Living Provides Healthy Eating and Education

Today in many parts of Wimauma, fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods are unavailable to many residents because of access, affordability or lack of knowledge about healthy eating for themselves and their children.

The Wholesome Living Initiative will create change with a kitchen complex that will include a fully-furnished commercial kitchen, classrooms, dining room and community vegetable garden, where residents will be taught to grow, harvest and prepare fresh fruits and vegetables:

Wimauma families in need will receive hot meals.

Family dinners will be hosted by Wholesome Church members every week.

To-go meals will be prepared for area nurseries and preschools at cost.

Saturday markets once a month on the church grounds will offer fresh vegetables, fresh honey and more to all residents of Wimauma, including Sun City and Valencia.

No-cost culinary classes will be held to teach healthy food selection and preparation.

Cooking and food preparation classes will be held for anyone interested in learning about healthy eating and cooking.

Wholesome Health Offers Affordable Medical Care and Wellness Education

Economic inequality takes a massive toll on physical and mental health — even more so than warfare, by some accounts. In fact, new research has shown that the mental stress of being poor is a major reason low-income people are more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol, and become obese or diabetic.[2]

The Lucca Specialty & Wellness Center is an integrated chronic and behavioral health center with pastoral care and counseling. The mission is to improve the health, wellness and lives of south Hillsborough County individuals and families through community-based and community-driven approaches in direct partnership with those in need. There will be a focused emphasis on chronic care, behavioral and mental health.

Additionally, the 10 acres offers an opportunity for:

Children to learn and play outdoor games, such as soccer, kickball, tunnel ball, ball relay and games they make up themselves. They will learn about teamwork, sharing, winning and losing, and trying their best.

Teenagers to organize soccer games, play dodge ball, ball tag and rugby, and in turn learn leadership skills and ways to work together to achieve goals.

For adults of all ages, there will be opportunities for pick-up games of soccer and rugby, and a par course on the church property that is safe to walk, with benches for resting and exercise stops.

A Wholesome Sanctuary for All

In essence, Wholesome Community Ministries will be a sanctuary for all. . .by offering services to the multi-generational and bi-lingual, and welcoming all ethnicities, means and ways of life.

We have achieved much in the 7 years we have been serving the people of Wimauma. To expand and be able to do much more, it is imperative that Wholesome Community Ministries accomplish two goals:

Acquire the property which includes Wholesome Church and approximately 10 acres of cleared land designated for development of the Wimauma Mission 7 Project. The land is being offered to Wholesome Community Ministries for $750,000, half of the stated value of $1,600,000.

Raise a sufficient amount from philanthropy to develop the property, including the kitchen hall, Lucca Specialty and Wellness Center, youth center, multi-purpose building, school building and thrift store.

Individuals and families in crisis impact all of us. We all want the same things: a vibrant city, a strong education system, support for citizens and families in need, and more. That doesn’t happen without focused investment in our community and its people. The challenges we face in our community belong to all of us, as do the successes.

Join us in ensuring that Wholesome Community Ministries – and you -- will continue to provide hope and opportunity for Wimauma citizens in need.

[1] Hope International, Isaiah 58 Campaign

[2] Sy Mukherjee, Think Progress.Org