Tampa area food pantries face greater demand, fewer donations

11/23/11 Josh Holton
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Many families will be spending the Thanksgiving holiday at home with family for a traditional dinner. The Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County estimates more than 17,000 people are on the county streets without a home every night, including this holiday weekend.

With the slumping economy, many of the area’s homeless shelters are at capacity, and Coordinator of Community Relations at Metropolitan Ministries Jim Alexander said that their Thanksgiving food drive is struggling to meet the high demand.

Hundreds of families were lined up today in need of food assistance, not only for Thanksgiving but also the days ahead. Their tent near downtown Tampa was decorated to look like a market, and even had a stage and lounge area set up to accommodate people while they wait to select food.

Metropolitan Ministries has partnered with 45 other service organizations through an initiative called Compassion + Action. And he said that their newly installed kitchen also works to serve other communities.

While the local unemployment rate has dropped slightly both in the state and nationwide, Alexander said that demand has increased dramatically in the last year, and the demographics have broadened as well.

Ronald Roberts used to be addicted to crack cocaine, but has been sober for 20 years. He said that up until 6 months ago, he was able to make rent, but is now without a home.

A Tampa native, Roberts said that he never expected needing to seek help from a place like Metropolitan Ministries. He said that the economic downturn has played a large role in his trouble finding work, and shelter for his family.

Despite the rain, some Occupy Tampa members have also been out on the streets today in ponchos, some in protest, and some by necessity. Some people in the homeless community are supporting Occupy Tampa because they agree with the message that the economic downturn has caused an increase in homelessness. Fitzgerald Scott has been arrested for refusing a police order to leave the sidewalk and for trespassing after hours in Kiley Garden, but he said that he will be spending his Thanksgiving back on the picket line.

Scott used to work as a planner for the City of Clearwater, but has chosen a life of poverty for what he calls a protest of a corrupt system. He plans to observe Buy Nothing Day on Friday to protest consumerism and out of necessity.

Scott said that he would be interested in working at a place like the Red Cross, or another relief organization, but he said that he has yet to apply. And while only a few people remained on the sidewalk at Occupy Tampa, he said that many of them may have chosen to be at home with their families on this holiday.

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