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Welcome to the Grace Community Food Pantry! We strive to help feed the less-fortunate families of Flagler County. Food and fuel prices have impacted all of us, and with the present unemployment rate many more families are struggling in this economy. We leverage the kind and generous donations we receive with a 100% volunteer operation. Check out this website, see who we are. Find out how you can help. Ask us questions.... We love our visitors!
PALM COAST — Slipping through the cracks is generally regarded as undesirable, but not always.
Pastor Charles Silano of Grace Tabernacle Ministries said it is exactly the moment that he slid through the cracks of his old life that led him to where he is today: arguably the most well-known philanthropist in Flagler County.
Silano is a 20-year Palm Coast resident and has been a pastor for 16 of them.
"I was at a point in that life and everything collapsed," the 62-year-old Silano said. "It's a crisis moment. It's just a web you can't possibly get out of."
The pastor initially tapped around the discussion but later said some of his "business" ventures weren't exactly above board. Pizza and sports memorabilia were his business fronts in South Florida.
"I was initially hesitant to talk about it," Silano said, acknowledging most people in the community know his story by now. "Basically, I was a small-time drug dealer who climbed the ladder of that world. One thing led to another, and I was offered a position you cannot refuse."
More recently, Silano received a "pass it on" award from Flagler County Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin, who had received the award from Garry Lubi, senior vice president for Prosperity Bank. Bank president Eddie Creamer rolled out the program last fall to all employees with the notion of building the community one volunteer at a time.
Both know of Silano's history and are unfazed by it.
"I've known Pastor Silano for five years," Lubi said. "The things he's done for the community have been outstanding. He's one of the finest people in our community and his efforts have been great."
Those efforts include running the Grace Tabernacle Food Pantry and taking food and services to residents who need it in Daytona North, as well as helping McLaughlin get the funding for potable water access at the community center there. He also helps organize Access Flagler First, a monthly one-stop venue for social services available in the county.
"Whatever mistakes he's made in his life, he's turned that around. I'm not going to cast a stone," McLaughlin said. "He's genuine. He's the real deal."
Silano's family in 1958 moved from Pratola Sera, where he and his one brother and four sisters had to share a bed, to South Orange, N.J.
He had largely been unaware he was poor until he went to public school and realized he didn't have the clothing or shoes of his classmates. Silano used a $1,000 grant he received for community college to make his first drug deal.
"(Classmates) were connected," he said. "I wasn't born into it, but grew up with them. I was really affected by the fact that everyone around me had money. I guess I got impatient. It was the easy option."
Drug deals got bigger. Credit was available. Trust was a forgotten concept, and life got dark.
"It's a cut-throat world," Silano said of the drug trade. "You can't trust the people you work with. It quit being fun and exciting. It was a web I couldn't get out of."
By the grace of God, Silano said, the crime family he had been involved with was literally decimated — by a death and a debilitating illness. He was able to make one "face-saving" deal after things started going awry for his crime family and it gave him a way out.
The pastor said he had been "God conscious" since he was 3 when he awoke one night at the foot of that bed shared by six.
"There was this really, really old face next to me," Silano recalled. "I'm not saying I saw God, but during that 10 or 15 minutes, love was communicated to me."
Though Silano always had "the calling," he kept telling God "next time, after the next deal."
"I was in my big house in New Jersey with all my stuff," Silano said. "It was 2 a.m., and I was playing piano and drinking a huge class of cognac. That night, though, I turned it over to God. I had to go to prison for a while, but I got a clean break. I got the break that God arranged for me."
With that, his wife, Colleen, whom he married in the '80s, moved to Florida and lived with her parents until Silano was released from prison. She had been unaware of his illegal activities until he was in deep and caught by law enforcement, Silano said.
He kept up with college-level classes, attended the Luther Rice Seminary in Lithonia, Ga., was ordained in 1997 and started Grace Tabernacle the following year.
He's been making amends for his past ever since.
"That's why I do what I do," Silano said. "Street ministry is the most fulfilling, because I've been there and done that. People see me as approachable because of my past."
His openness impressed McLaughlin.
"What moves me is that he is willing to talk about it (the past), but he's not proud of it," McLaughlin said. "He's not going to hide anything."