Since the area has come under the grip of the coronavirus, the Tampa Bay food pantry has seen the need for assistance multiply and in some cases jump to 400 times the usual demand.
“Overnight, the demand for access to food – the most basic human right – extends beyond our community,” said Thomas Manz, president and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay.
The upcoming holidays only add to the stress of food insecurity, proponents say. Feeding Tampa Bay has doubled its weekly food distribution from 1 million to 2 million meals, according to the organization. And 68 percent of the people they serve are new to food aid.
Metropolitan Ministries, one of the largest non-profit organizations helping people in need, has reported some serious statistics:
- It distributed 56,000 lunch boxes from March to September, about 10 times more than usual.
- The need for holiday assistance during Thanksgiving and Christmas has more than doubled this year, the largest in the organization’s history. It is expected to serve as many as 50,000 families this holiday season. Last year, they served 26,000.
- The organization buys $ 600,000 in food to serve families just for Thanksgiving through its holiday tent in Tampa. Last year, they spent $ 250,000 for the entire Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
Last week, Angelina Gomez Hernandez stood in line to get food donations at the University Area Community Center in Tampa with Joel, the youngest of four children, who is 5 months old. The University Area CDC and Metropolitan Ministries donated Thanksgiving meals to more than 600 needy families.
“It helps us a lot,” said Gomez Hernandez in Spanish. “Sometimes there’s nothing at home, but with this, it’s something for our kids.”
At the Daystar Life Center in St. Petersburg Petersburg, there has been a 40 percent increase in service requirements since July. The center helps with food, clothing, bus tickets, rent and utility assistance, and helps people get ID cards and birth certificates.
Daystar distributed 2,000 grocery packages to help families through July. In October, the number jumped to more than 3,000 grocery bags, said Suzanne Palmer, Daystar’s director of community engagement.
Corona virus prevention measures also add extra wrinkles to helpers. Thanksgiving meals delivered to Uptown University Area residents in Tampa were distributed drive-bys with volunteers in protective gear.
The good news is that generosity is also increasing as needs become known, according to Metropolitan Ministries.
In addition to the 20,000 Thanksgiving lunchboxes being distributed through her holiday tents, hot food preparation is underway. About 9,000 hot meals will be distributed this week, the organization said. That’s an increase from the 6,000 originally anticipated.
“The need is enormous, but so is the compassion and generosity of our Tampa Bay community,” said spokesman Billy Somerville.
Thad Bullard, better known as WWE star Titus O’Neil, is one of Tampa Bay’s best known good guys, raising money and taking food trips through his Bullard Foundation and with local organizations. He has spent years helping families in east Tampa, one of the state’s poorest communities, “for kids like me,” and he says the beating caused by the coronavirus is “ mind-blowing. ” She encourages anyone to give as little as $ 5 or donate their time if they can, and then reap the benefits of giving.
Bullard says helping others leaves a lasting impression. “I think if anything else, 2020 has shown us that we can do a much better job of treating people better.”
Its goal is to meet the needs of 50,000 families in the Tampa Bay area for Metropolitan Service during the holidays. Last year, his foundation rewarded four families with new cars, and this year he aims to do so for at least seven families. “I saw how my mother struggled to have adequate transportation and many of these families were unable to make ends meet, so maybe we can make it easier.”
Next week, Metropolitan Ministries will embark on what is said to be the most challenging Christmas aid program ever.
“Those who are fighting for Thanksgiving will still be fighting for Christmas,” Somerville said. Most needed items include turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, and cereals. The ministry will need thousands of turkeys and 100,000 toys to get through the Christmas season, he said.
“Before there was a need, and now it’s even bigger,” said Caitlyn Peacock, executive director of the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger. “I can’t tell you how many calls we received from people who literally had nothing left in their kitchen.”
The network has increased the number of locations for distributing food and added plenty of vehicle storage space to help fill the void, Peacock said. He said the term “food insecurity” may need an updated definition. Things like timing, having a microwave, and turning on the electricity only add to the burden of feeding a family.
“Hunger is the only bill you can’t manipulate, and it’s a burden that weighs on everything else,” says Peacock. “We aim to make sure that it only lasts a moment.”
Feed Tampa Bay organizes food distribution events almost daily in all 10 coverage areas. You can find the kitchen location at feedingtampabay.org/findfood. It also has a partner kitchen on its site where you can find hot food of the day or a place to buy a box of groceries.
Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger operates Meals on Wheels in the counties of Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough and also has information on food kitchens and offers assistance in applying for federal food aid assistance. Go to networktoendhunger.org/find-food to find sources near you. Call 813-344-5837 for more information.
How to help
Stand By FTB is a site created by Feeding Tampa Bay that makes it easy to find ways to donate your time or money to its hunger endeavors. Go to feedingtampabay.org/standwithftb to find specific advice to give your time and talent.
Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger works with multiple organizations and can use donations as well as volunteers and drivers. Go to networktoendhunger.org/ways-to-donate or call 813-344-5837.
Times staff writer Ivy Ceballo contributed to this report.
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