By Grace Hirdes
Photos Courtesy Cutting Edge Ministries

Cutting Edge Ministries (CEM) food center was started and is run by Pastor Wendell Smith with the sole mission to “Help Feed the Hungry.” They are a ministry center where about 300+ families come every week to receive meat, dairy, and fresh produce from around Central Florida. These are people from every walk of life, whether they are senior citizens, single moms, low income families, minorities, or upper class. Pastor Smith tells us that “everyone goes through difficult times and is in need of assistance. That’s why we exist to Feed the Hungry and help in those difficult times because even though they might get a box of groceries this week, it will not last them forever.” That’s why the ministry continues to exist, because there are still people in their community who are struggling and in need of assistance.

Pastor Smith tells us that it all began when God gave him the vision to “Establish food pantries for churches and ministries and to network with organizations around the world.” This vision began coming to fruition in 2004, when the hurricanes hit and they started feeding 2000+ members of the community in the church parking lot. During this time, they started partnering with Operation Blessing International (OBI), Somebody Cares Tampa Bay, Seed Sowers, Feed the Children, and Operation Compassion. Because of the help from these organizations around the world, they were able to get their food ministry started, and organizations such as OBI have continually supported them over the years with grants for food, equipment, and disaster relief.

In 2005, they purchased their original property with no money in their budget, but because of God’s grace and through several miracles, they were able to obtain the property. Then in 2017, they broke ground on their current property, Joseph’s Storehouse, which is their secured, air-conditioned facility where they are able to store their fresh produce until time to deliver it to those in need. This building was obtained through grants from Mosaic, Publix, and many private donors as well.

Then in 2014, they found themselves in need of a refrigerated box truck to help them transport food for hungry families from all over Central Florida. This need was met through a generous grant from Mosaic and their new truck is still transporting food to this day. Their vision is to one day have a facility with coolers and docks to help them house large supplies of produce to help feed hungry families as they are currently using a local dock to unload the truck and then transport the supplies to their own facility.

Even though there are difficult days, Pastor Smith tells us “I love seeing the faces of the families in need and hearing the stories of their lives.” His favorite part of serving his community is that he serves where he was raised. Hardee County is listed as one of the poorest counties in the state of Florida. Pastor Smith shares, “I love to sit and talk with families, especially the seniors, they get about 600-800 a month, and they either have to buy medicine or food, so to be able to help them with the food part is always a blessing.”

Pat and Ray, volunteers with CEM also stated that, “We’ve had people come in with tears in their eyes, really needing food, in desperate situations.” CEM is the hands of God, feeding the hungry and giving to those in need. Pastor Smith shares that “Proverbs says, when you give to the needy, you’re giving to God and He will repay. Cutting Edge Ministries has seen God repay over and over again over the years as they’ve had struggles but God has always provided.”

Bette Sneider, Smith’s assistant has been key in finding grants and assistance in food donors to help them achieve their vision to Help Feed Hungry Families. Because of this, they were able to give out 1.5 million lbs. of food and other basic needs to 14,498 families in 2017 and in 2018, they gave out 1.75 million lbs. of food to 16,156 families.

Their current focus is to address the needs of the families that have been impacted by COVID-19. They’ve shifted their food bank to a drive through setting, and even went door-to-door in their communities to deliver and distribute 21 lb. boxes of nutritious foods such as milk, meat, dairy, breads, and produce to every home thanks to the Farmers to Families USDA program, provided through Convoy of Hope, Feeding Tampa Bay, and Florida Baptist Children’s Home. They were able to deliver 1352 food boxes to families in Bowling Green, 1152 boxes in Zolfo Springs, and 1368 boxes in Wauchula. During COVID, they were also able to visit Elementary schools and pass out 7960 5lb. boxes to the families of that school. As of October, in 2020 they’ve been able to serve 17,000 families, provide 69,400 meals, and give out 1.487 million pounds of food.

Cutting Edge Ministries is networking with many agencies across Central Florida to bring products and food to help families in need in Hardee County. They operate through donors, grants, volunteers, and local support. They are 1 of 14 agencies supported by Mosaic, the Lightning Hockey Team and Feeding America. They also operate with assistance from a Local Foundation, and the County budget. They are also an agency under Feeding Tampa Bay, Feeding America.

They are currently partnered with organizations such as Farmer’s Choice USA and Hardee Fresh.  Farmers Choice Inc was founded in 2016 to provide farmers and non- profits with new and innovative markets for fresh and wholesome produce. With a lifetime of experience in growing, packing and shipping, their team knows where the greatest opportunities are for enabling producers to reduce waste, protect their investment and help feed their neighbors in need. They are a for profit with the heart of a nonprofit. Farmers Choice connects growers and non-profits to provide over 1500 semi loads of fresh produce annually to not for profits nationwide.

Sara Skitka from Farmers Choice tells us “Our relationship with Cutting Edge Ministries started nearly 30 years ago in the late 1980’s when we were farming. The relationship continued when we began working with non-profits about a decade ago. When we founded Farmers Choice, we felt a moral responsibility to give back to our community. We not only provide fresh produce to Cutting Edge at no cost, we also have had the privilege of providing turkeys for their Thanksgiving drive, repairing and providing new refrigeration units to help maintain optimal temperatures for the proper storage of fresh produce. We have also volunteered at Cutting Edge distributions throughout the years.” Farmers Choice truly does value the opportunity to help their neighbors in need.

Another partner of Cutting Edge Ministries is Hardee Fresh. Hardee Fresh supports the educational and economic goals of their employees and the broader community. “Ending food insecurity in America is critically important and it begins at the local level. While we have been working to ensure that premium organic produce is made accessible to all consumers since 2018, this year, we have proudly donated our products to over 20,000 families in need throughout Florida. We plan to continue our commitment to programs with the USDA, The United Way of Central Florida and other charitable organizations for years to come.” Halton A. Peters, Ph.D., Hardee Fresh Co-Founder and President.

While CEM receives grants and donors help purchase food and equipment, they do not cover salaries. If you are looking for a way to support their ministry, they are asking for 30 businesses or individuals to give $100 a month to help hire an Operations Manager as they have grown in size and are in need of someone to help facilitate the continuing changes and expansion of their food distribution of thousands of meals to feed the hungry.