Agency’s center relocates to Historic District

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Old facility will be converted to a warehouse

Story by Augie Salzer -- For the Riverland News


One Dunnellon teacher, Annie Johnson, helped a few hungry people 39 years ago by feeding them in her home. Now her legacy has continued to blossom into the oldest and largest service center in Dunnellon to continue helping fill the needs of the community.
The Annie Johnson Service Center Inc. opened a new location Tuesday in the Dunnellon Historical District, right next door to its thrift store on West Pennsylvania Avenue. The center is now helping give food to the needy residents from Marion, Levy, and Citrus counties and has recently added Sumter County to the list.
They moved from their location at 1991 W. Test Court, where Johnson originally began “senior services” at the old church in 1986. That building will now be called Annie’s Warehouse No. 1 and will be used to house the food until it’s moved to the service center for distribution.
“We only have one warehouse at this time,” said Christine Avina, client services coordinator. “We want to think big.”
One of the reasons for the move was to have a safer place for the clients to obtain the food and services Annie Johnson provides, said Larry Cooper, executive director.
“People were afraid to drive back there,” Cooper said about the old service center. “Now with this building, we look more like a business and that is how it should be.”
The structure was purchased by Annie Johnson Services Inc. and they took possession of the building in June.
By the front door is a plaque which shows the house is No. 44 on the National Historical Register in the city of Dunnellon Historic District with the name “Robert E. Williams House” and the year 1905.
“I think the house was built by Williams in 1905,” Avina said. “Then he moved it here in 1917 from Vogt.”
The volunteers and staff started immediately cleaning the house and the exterior of the house was painted a yellowish green with dark green trim and finished with bright red doors. The interior wood planked walls were painted a light yellow with bright white trim to give the place a cheery atmosphere.
The large entrance area gives the clients a comfortable place to check in, receive the paperwork for the county they live in and sit while they fill out their forms. Donated furniture and decorations give the house a homey feel, except for one large room containing numerous 6-foot-tall wire racks already filled with non-perishable food.
A small room in the back of the house will be available the second and third Wednesday monthly for the Florida Department of Children and Families volunteers to help those in need to fill out the online application for food stamps.
Everything is finished in the house with the exception of a small room they plan to use for a kitchenette and a room off the bathroom, but the area the clients will see is complete.
Curt Bond Signs took on the job of changing the large sign on the front lawn, complete with the boy and girl logo, to the specifications of the city and historical society regulations. Bond donated his time and materials to refurbish the inside “welcome” sign.
“I’ve already used my whole budget for renovating the building,” Avina said. “We will have to use volunteers to help us do the rest.”
Jena Webb started in March as the assistant client services coordinator. She volunteered more than 120 hours in just the few months before she was hired, according to Avina.
“I did all the food pantry duties, and in the thrift store I worked in the clothing department,” Webb said. “I did whatever was needed.”
Annie Johnson Service Center has a partnership with Feeding America, a nonprofit organization with a network of food banks to help feed people through food pantries.
The Feeding American Program provides food through the Dunnellon Walmart and five Publix stores in the area. The food donated by the stores are items that are still useable, but the package has been damaged or the product is close to expiration.
“We have a refrigerated truck we use four days a week,” Avina said. “The truck is only used to pick up the food from the stores and take it to the warehouse or transport it to the service center.”
Everyone going to the center in need of help must show documentation that they are eligible to receive the food. They also must provide identification for themselves and everyone in their family.
An average of 1,500 pounds of food can be given out at the Annie Johnson Service Center in one day, according to Avina, but it depends on the day of the month.
“We can get more clients here after their food stamps run out or it is the end of the month,” Avina said. “It also depends on our county sister agencies and when they run low on food.”
With more and more people coming to the center for help, the agency has been looking for a bigger building to move into, but hadn’t found the right one yet, Cooper told the Riverland News two years ago.
“Now this place is great,” Cooper said about the larger service center capable of handling even more families.
The food pantry will be open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, but the client services will end at approximately 11:30 a.m.
For information about the Annie Johnson Service Center or to volunteer, call 489-8021.
Augie Salzer is a correspondent for the Riverland News. Email her at augie@thingsin