The group Feeding Tampa Bay is convinced that hunger is a bigger problem in the Tampa Bay area than many people realize. Its executive director, Thomas Mantz, says that’s why the group is hosting a “Hunger Dinner” Thursday night to draw attention to local food insecurity.
“The easiest way for your listeners to think about this is that 1 in 4 children and 1 in 7 adults, in the Tampa Bay area, don’t have a steady access to food. In sheer numbers, that’s somewhere around 250,000 kids and 700,000 adults.”
On a day to day basis, what is your organization doing about hunger?
“Well, we really do two things as a food relief organization. The first is that we provide food where that’s needed and necessary. So, on a monthly basis, we’ll deliver the equivalent of about 3.5-million meals a month. That’s north of 40-million meals a year. That obviously takes care of the issue of person who is in need of a healthy meal today.
“The second thing that an organization like ours does, is we try and make sure that we bring awareness to the issue of hunger and also to coordinate the broader effort of hunger relief. One of the things that’s not known about Feeding Tampa Bay is that virtually all of the charitable organizations you know that deliver food into the community: a local church, a boys and girls club, and organizations like that, their food comes through us. We are that mass collection and redistribution organization that is the backbone of food relief.”
This week you’re holding a special event. It’s called Tampa Bay Goes Hungry for a Night and you’re going to ask the question: “Do you know what it’s like to not have enough to eat?” How are you going to help people to answer that question?
“You know, first I would say our greatest challenge, again, is the awareness of the issue that your friends, your neighbors, people in your world, are eating maybe one or two meals a day, instead of three meals. Or perhaps they are making the choice between what you and I would consider healthy foods and the foods that they can afford.
“So, we try, at least once a year–among many others–but, we try at least once a year to bring awareness to that issue and so we hold this event, which is tomorrow night, and we portray hunger in a very different way, where we put our guests in some of the same positions that the folks we’re serving are in, where they have to make really difficult decisions. Not only do they lose some of their choice around what kind of food and meal they might have, but, also we ask our guests to consider some very difficult questions. For example, the group at a table might discuss: If you had to choose between medicine and food for your child, which would you choose? And that sounds like an awful question for you and I to contemplate, but, it’s a very common one for the families who are taken care of.”
What do the people do when they are faced with those kind of choices?
“Well, in short, they make awful choices. But, I can tell you, in that example they’ll do two things. First is, you’ll see families that start to water down their foods or stretch their foods in different ways. We see, most typically, an example where a mother will buy formula, but, will water it down, which really compromises the nutritional circumstance for the child. We’ll also see people like seniors, who take medication only every other day. These are choices that, again, families are making regularly. It’s not an uncommon occurrence.
“I would emphasize to your listeners that you know people who are on food relief, you just don’t know it. We have teachers, we have people who are in public service. We have people that are working jobs that you’re familiar with, but, are having to come into a food bank in order to stretch their family’s budget.
“Most all the food we distribute goes into homes. It goes to families who have homes, jobs, cars, and obligations that all of us have, but, they don’t have the resources to meet all of their needs.”
And finally, if people want to find out more, either about your organization or about the Tampa Bay Goes Hungry for a Night event, where can they go?
“For both of those, they can go to our website at feedingtampabay.org or our Facebook page Feeding Tampa Bay. Both have a lot of information about that. We can always use the public’s support and we’re a volunteer based organization. We of course are charitable, so we can use other types of support. Hunger is a significant issue and it takes an awful lot of us to make sure that we feed our neighbors.”
A press release says, “Participants will unknowingly be separated into ‘food secure’ and ‘food insecure’ groups when arriving to the Feeding Tampa Bay warehouse, and then partake in a meal typical either for people with enough food or for those who often go hungry. The event is designed to spark a new discussion among the community about what it means and what [it] feels like to not have enough to eat.”
Feeding Tampa Bay
4702 Transport Drive, Building 6
Tampa, FL 33605