LAKELAND, Fla. — Three days after gunshots rang out on North Iowa Avenue, a very different scene unfolded just blocks away on North Vermont Avenue.
Ministries from around Polk County set up in a lot and handed out food and drinks, with officials saying their goal was to let neighbors know they're not alone.
“Sometimes when a disaster hits, people feel lonely,” said event organizer Bobby Williams. “They feel like no one cares or don’t know what to do. So, tell them that we’re there for them. What can we do? How can we help you?”
Williams’ ministries, The Freedom Church and The Freedom Food Tour, were among the groups taking part Thursday evening. He said The Freedom Food Tour works to provide necessities to communities in the wake of catastrophic events.
“When people think disaster, they think hurricane, tornado — you know, a natural disaster,” he said. “But there are all kinds of disasters that happen that are manmade. So, this was one.”
Police say 11 people were injured in a drive-by shooting on North Iowa Avenue Monday. Lakeland Police said Tuesday they’re confident they found the car involved in the attack, but as of Thursday night, no arrests had been made. Some neighbors say the incident has left them shaken.
“People don’t respect each other, they don’t respect life,” said Denise King, who came to North Vermont Avenue when she was told the ministries were handing out food.
King lives on the other side of the road from where the shooting happened and said she had safety concerns in the neighborhood before Monday, but has become more cautious following the incident.
“It’s scary because what you see in other places, you’re so grateful — ‘I thank God this didn’t happen here.’ Now, it’s here,” she said.
Williams said the goal was to find out what resources the groups can connect residents to or provide them with.
“How can we help you financially, you know?” he said. “And that ain’t always money, but that’s bleach, cleaning supplies, food.”
King said the unexpected food giveaway will make a difference to her.
“It means a lot when you live on a fixed income,” she said.
Williams said the ministries plan to return to the lot on North Vermont Avenue on Sunday at 4:30 p.m., this time to grill up hot dogs and hamburgers.
Anyone with information on Monday’s shooting is asked to contact the Lakeland Police Department. Heartland Crimestoppers is also offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved. Tips can be reported by calling 1-800-226-TIPS (8477).