Giving a Helping Hand

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Giving a Helping Hand

February 11, 2017 - 11:21
Dianna Seijas, left, and Eileen Katrick display the very first crochet mat made by volunteers at Mats for a Mission in Brooksville. The goal for 2017 is 500 mats.

Facebook neighborhood group highlights the many helping hands in our county.

Meet Dianna Alonzo, Yael Chenard and Anna Peterson — administrators of Spring Hill, FL Neighbors, a Facebook publication covering all things about news, business, art and life in Spring Hill. The group is 8,236 members strong.

More than administrators of the group, they are longtime friends who also want to give back to their community and lend a helping hand to neighbors in time of need.

Volunteers at Mats for a Mission meet every Saturday morning between 9 and 11 a.m. to at The Grande in Brooksville to crochet sleeping mats from plastic bags  to donate to the needy.

“We want our neighbors and families to know that they are not alone and that we care,” said Anna Peterson, currently a stay-at-home mom. “We started this group as a place where neighbors can connect with each other and make a difference in the community we live in and love,” she said.

The trio said the core mission of the group is to find ways to help people less fortunate than us so they started thinking about what other ways they could make a difference.

They discovered that a common theme in most neighborhoods is one of financial hardship and living from wage packet to wage packet.

“Financial problems and challenges happen to everyone at some point, and the stress and worry can be overwhelming,” said Yael, a mortgage consultant.

“With our very first initiative we found a way to help put food on the table for those in need: Free pantry boxes.”

Originally conceived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, pantry boxes give the community a place to donate food and supplies to people in need. The concept is simple: Anyone may place and take items inside the pantry at any time. Items like canned fish and chicken, as well as vegetarian protein sources like beans, rice and peanut butter, are generally donated.

“For whatever reasons people find themselves in financial difficulty, there are always ways to move forward positively and find ways to get by,” she said.

The group found someone to build the pantry boxes for them and have sited three so far in the Spring Hill area. Generous donations from the neighborhood keep the pantry boxes full Anna explained.

“Kerri Ann Lalane is the lady who builds our freestanding pantry boxes for us,” Anna said. “So if anyone out there has any spare lumber or hardware or would like to volunteer their help, we would love to hear from you.”

“All items donated are helpful, but some can be more helpful than others,” she said.

She explained that although food stamps alleviate the situation, items like toilet paper, paper towels, soap, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, shampoo, diapers, toothbrushes and toothpaste are not covered by food stamps.

“If making donations, it would also be useful to think about items that when put together can make a complete meal,” Anna said. “For example, rice and canned protein or soup mixes that comes in a pouch.”


We’ve all heard of a “Flash Mob.” The Wikipedia definition is “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.”

The Spring Hill, FL Neighborhood administrators have tweaked this concept somewhat to encourage support of small local businesses.

“Every month, the group will choose a small business in the Spring Hill area and let our members know the day and place so we can all go and spend a few dollars on the business’s services or products,” said Anna.

The group’s selected first business to be “mobbed” is Bark Avenue Mobile Pet Grooming.

“This “mob” is a little different because instead of charging for their services or products, the owners Christina and Shawn, are offering a free nail trim clinic in exchange for donations,” said Anna. “All the donations will then be given to the animal charity of their choice — ARF’N — the Animal Rescue Friends Network, Inc.”

In fact, two businesses are involved in this first “mob” launch as the event will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 in the parking lot of Marker 48 — a full production craft brewery located on Cortez Boulevard (Highway 50).


Another initiative posted regularly on Spring Hill, FL Neighbors is Mats for a Mission

“There’s a lady — Dianna Seijas — who has put a group of volunteers together to make mats for the homeless out of donated grocery bags,” said Anna. 

The group is called Mats For a Mission of Hernando County, Florida and they meet every Saturday morning to create sleeping mats out of a reusable material, mostly recycled plastic bags.

“Making these sleeping mats allow volunteers to be creative and to help the needy at the same time,” said Seijas.

Eileen L Katrick from Baltimore, Maryland originally started the Mats for a Mission project which has sparked a lot of interest nationwide. The mats are made out of plastic shopping bags that have been smoothed out, the tops and bottoms cut off and then cut up into loops.

The loops are then crocheted together to form a durable mat that can be used for many purposes. Crocheting plastic rather than old T-shirts, for example, means the thick mat can survive rainy days and colder weather. 

The group gathers every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at The Grande located at 725 Desoto Ave, Brooksville, FL 34601 and volunteers are always welcome. (Bring scissors and a large crochet hook.) For more information, contact Eileen Katrick at ( 443) 829-5290 or Dianna Seijas at (352) 247-6582.


A selection of tote bags that Megan Barr Giles fills with goodies and toiletries to donate to the Dawn Center, a local domestic violence shelter.

“Something else we have in the works is the Blessing Bags project,” said Yael. “Megan Barr Giles is the lady who started the blessing bags here,” she said. 

“The concept is to use small donations from local businesses and then fill a tote bag with toiletry items like  toothpaste, toothbrush, wipes, deodorant for example.

Megan likes to use brightly colored tote bags for her Blessing Bags and then donates to them to the local domestic violence shelter,” she said.

Megan assembles and delivers Blessing Bags to the domestic and sexual violence participants at the Dawn Center in Brooksville. Each bag is reusable and contains a bottle of lotion, pairs of socks, a loofer, Kleenex, chapstick, soap, hand sanitizer, and a handwritten note saying, life is too short to see yourself as anything but beautiful.

“I know they are going to love receiving a bag of pampering items, especially when they didn’t expect them,” said Megan. “Everyone deserves to know someone cares about them.”

Anyone can make Blessing Bags. It doesn’t have to be a large bag. Gallon ZipLoc bags are ideal. It’s something a family can do together over time and keep in the car for when you see someone at a traffic light holding up cardboard signs asking for food or money to help. 

“Everyone has an opportunity to pay forward in our everyday lives, even if’s just letting someone go in front of you at the grocery store, said Yael. “Volunteering for a local organization is a good way too or telling someone how much you appreciate them.” 

The group is confident that nobody has to be lonely these days and a neighborhood group is a great way to make new friends. 

“So this is our way of giving back,” Anna said. “We want people to know that someone out there cares enough to do something.” We truly believe in our community and our neighbors,” said Anna.

To learn more about Spring Hill, FL Neighbors, visit their FaceBook page at