After what he describes as a "$1 million dollar miracle,'' a Wimauma pastor has purchased the church he was renting month-to-month, sparing it from being torn down to build custom homes.
“We didn’t know where to go, and God continued showing his mercy and his grace every step of the way,” says Lead Pastor Carlos Irizarry, of Wholesome Church. “We saw God move.”
Wholesome is in the path of development along U.S. Highway 301 between Big Bend Road and State Road 674 in South Hillsborough County, where fields are giving way to subdivisions. The church had been renting for about five years from River of Life Christian Center in Riverview, which was looking to sell it.
Although Pastor Carlos wanted to buy it, he lacked funds, even with a substantial discount. Things came to a head after River of Life received a developer’s offer to buy the property valued at $1.5 million.
In response, Pastor Carlos appealed to the public in March for $235,000, launching a fundraising drive on Go Fund Me. Twice they were told to vacate. Even after a May 17 loan agreement, the church needed a 15-day extension to fulfill the lender’s requirements for a land survey and environmental inspection.
When news about the church hit television, a neighbor at Valencia Lakes called wanting to know more about what the church was doing. His son donated the remaining $11,000 required. And now the neighbor is planning to work with volunteers to assist in the church as the ministry continues.
The church secured a loan, raised some $21,000 in cash, and received another $20,000+ in donated work. Interest in the church’s work continues.
With the July 14 closing behind them, the church is now focusing on plans to improve the property and open its preschool early next year. “Because we took the building as is, we do have some repairs to do,” he says.
Remodeling will add more rooms for the preschool, which is expected to have a capacity of some 50 to 75 students aged 2 to 4. Pricing will be affordable, on a sliding scale based on income.
“Definitely our mission is to help families in Wimauma, but we know there is such a big demand. Families will want to apply to be there,” he says. “I can’t tell you all families will be from Wimauma.”
Early childhood education is a long-recognized need in the Wimauma community, where some are hindered by their lack of English language skills. A coalition of people concerned about the future of the community, which includes Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, the Wimauma CDC, and others are working together to expand educational opportunities.
In addition to the preschool, Wholesome plans health and youth centers, a kitchen hall, a multipurpose building and thrift shop on the 10-acre property featuring a domed sanctuary.