LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — A fire ripped through the New Testament Ministries food pantry in Lakeland after a man lit nearby pallets on fire early Thursday morning.
Security video from the plaza where the ministry is located shows the man using some type of device to spark a fire in the stack of pallets, which were located on a sidewalk just outside the ministry.
The pallets had been used to deliver food that would have been used to hand out to families in need for their Thanksgiving meal.
Instead, the fire spread from the pallets to the building.
The ministry suffered significant damage and the food for Thanksgiving was destroyed.
Polk County deputies identified Gordon Nelson from the security video as the man who set the fire. Deputies arrested Nelson, who had his first appearance in front of a Polk County judge on Friday.
The judge set Nelson’s bond at $50,000 on a charge of first-degree arson.
As Nelson was appearing in court, volunteers worked to clean up damage from the fire.
“We’ll be having the food brought in here and it will be given to the people. So, we are stocking everything, but it will not be put inside, it will be put on the table. So, it will be some small scale,” said Dais Abraham who manages the food pantry.
He says the fire could not have come at a worse time.
“Oh, this is the worst. We had packed up to the roof, like to the ceiling, everything was so filled, so it is the worst time I could imagine that it happened,” said Abraham.
Still, volunteers say they will do what they can to hand out food on Wednesday for Thanksgiving to those in need.
“I think there is a reason that this happened. Maybe it’s a test of our strength and our faith, but we’re going to Ace that test,” said Kamehalani Herdon.