Local charity experiencing high volume of need, not donations, ahead of holidays
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11/24/10 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

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Food pantries across the Tampa Bay area are experiencing shortages just ahead of the holiday weekend. One Tampa nonprofit is experiencing a swell of people in need this year, including former donors and volunteers.

The rows of donated non-perishables are set up like grocery store aisles. Here, those who’ve signed up with Metropolitan Ministries’ holiday food program weave their shopping carts throughout rows of cereal, pasta, and canned goods. Katherine from Tampa is poring over boxed grain labels. She says she and her husband have been struggling to make ends meet for two years.

"My husband was laid off, his job was outsourced, unemployment ran out, he's delivering papers at night, I'm working at the grocery store but it's still not enough money."

This year, the program is helping around thirty thousand Tampa Bay area families put Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner on the table.

"That sounds like a large number but with 140,000 unemployed in the bay area that's just the tip of it."

Anna Mendez, Director of Community Relations at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa, says the state of the economy is turning things most Americans take for granted, like Thanksgiving dinner, into a luxury for many.

"With the current economic climate it's challenging to have to choose between putting gas in your car or buying food for your family."

Mendez says clients can find pretty much holiday meal component they need among the aisles of the distribution center.

"And they'll be receiving a traditional holiday meal along with a turkey this Thanksgiving, and coming up for Christmas they'll be receiving a traditional meal, turkey again, and toys for their children."

She says her organization has seen a ten percent increase in the amount of people seeking out the program this year.

"We're continuing to see that changing face of homelessness. The needs are suburban, urban, and exurban meaning that people from affluent communities are coming to us for assistance. They've never dreamed of being in this predicament. They've gone from dual incomes to single incomes to no income at all and there finding themselves with 'what do I do, where do I turn?' A lot of people that we've spoken to are past donors, past volunteers of ours."

Mendez adds that half of the program’s clients are first timers. David from Gibsonton is one of these. He says he’s unemployed, and had worked in the pest control industry before becoming injured.

"Running into some tough times with the family this year and we came down here for some assistance and these people are gracious enough to be able to give us a Thanksgiving dinner."

It’s also the first Thanksgiving Sarah from Tampa, a single mother who’s also a student, is seeking help from the nonprofit.

"Usually I spend it with my family but this year it's just me and the baby."

The pantry is teeming with apron-clad volunteers. Metropolitan Ministries reportedly gets around a hundred calls a day from people who want to help. Sixteen-year-old Sophia Baldor is one of these. She says volunteering here is quite an eye-opening experience.

"Really, even driving down here through this part of town, I mean, you see a lot that you don't see. ... Tampa, where I'm from. It's very different and you see this other side and you're like, wow, how fortunate I am to be able to help. It's a wonderful experience."

The pantry’s Thanksgiving meal distribution ended earlier today, but community relations director Anna Mendez says Metropolitan Ministries will open its doors tomorrow morning to serve Thanksgiving dinner to those in need.

"If you are listening to this and you don't have a place to eat, you can come to our community meal tomorrow which is located at our holiday center 2010 North Florida Avenue and we'll be serving from 11:30 to 1:30 for the community."

A marquee in front of the building says they’re in need of turkeys as well as canned yams ahead of Christmas.

Metropolitan Ministries - 813-209-1000

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