Curbside delivery at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic's drive-thru food pantry.

10 Ways to Fight Hunger in Tampa Bay

The COVID-19 pandemic is generating a host of negative side effects — in our economy, in our social lives, in our sense of well-being. But among the most urgent problems right now, due to record-breaking unemployment, is hunger. At Feeding Tampa Bay, for instance, online requests for support are up “a staggering 400 percent.”

How can you help? Donate, volunteer or simply spread the word about the following organizations and community efforts.

1. Be like Tom & Gisele. Talk about making a good first impression. Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen — he’s a football player, she’s a model, perhaps you’ve heard of them — introduced themselves to their new hometown by paying for 750,000 meals to be distributed by Feeding Tampa Bay. The value of that donation, according to an estimate by the Tampa Bay Times, was $75,000. [An earlier version of this post had the estimate incorrectly listed as $750,000 — the extra zero was my error, not the Times‘s.]

2. Be like the Rays and the Rowdies. In addition to the support shown by the Bucs and its new quarterback, our other pro sports teams are stepping up to feed the hungry, too. The Rays Baseball Foundation and the Rowdies Soccer Fund donated $100,000 to Feeding Tampa Bay — and will match an additional $150,000 in donations. The teams are also awarding COVID-19 Community Relief Grants to support 501(c)(3) organizations with a focus on hunger relief, shelter and/or health and wellness and that have been impacted by COVID-19

3. Be like the Lightning — and Jeff VinikAs the Times‘s John Romano reported recently, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik gave $100,000 to Tampa’s Emergency Relief Fund for small businesses (the Bucs and the Rays gave $100,000, too) and $100,000 to a similar fund for St. Pete’s small business owners; $50,000 to USF students facing economic stress due to the pandemic; $300,000 to Metropolitan Ministries; and something like $200,000 on PSA’s — plus all those millions he and the team have already awarded to the Lightning’s Community Heroes.

And even if you’re not a sports team or a philanthropist or a mega-famous power couple, you can still do any of the following:

4. Give to Feeding Tampa Bay. The Bay area’s largest food relief organization is facing an unprecedented increase in need, especially among children who are out of school, seniors and others at greatest risk who cannot reach food, and families who are experiencing higher expenses and lower wages who would not normally have needed help. In recent weeks, they have activated child meal sites in four counties, delivered thousands of meals to senior sites, transitioned mobile pantry distribution centers to a drive-thru model, and ramped up production in their Trinity Cafe kitchen to create 25,000 to-go meals each week to be sent out through its programs. Donations that Feeding Tampa Bay would typically receive during a crisis are slowing as product flies off of store shelves, leading them to purchase more food than ever for children and seniors in need. Learn how to donate here and learn about volunteering here.

5. Support the St. Petersburg Free Clinic. SPFC is the #1 emergency food distributor in Pinellas County. The Clinic’s We Help Food Pantry at 863 3rd Ave. N. is now operating a temporary drive-thru Mondays and Tuesdays from 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and on Thursdays from 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. They are also holding remote pantry hours at First Baptist Church, 1900 First Gandy Blvd. N., on Friday, Apr. 17, continuing every other Friday in April and May, and at Childs Park in St. Petersburg every other Wednesday starting Apr. 22. Like Feeding Tampa Bay, the Clinic is facing unprecedented demand. Learn how to donate funds here.

6. Give food and funds to Metropolitan Ministries. MetroMin is currently operating 25 meal locations and two Family Support Center drive-thru locations (MWF, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., 2301 N. Tampa Street, Tampa, and 3214 US HWY 19 N, Holiday). Donate to their Emergency Impact Fund, their Facebook and GoFundMe fundraisers and donate food and supplies via their donation drive-through from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat. at 2101 N. Florida Ave., Tampa or call 813-209-1034 for information on making a bulk or large donation. The foods most needed are cereal, canned vegetables, canned fruit, canned meats, beans, and peanut butter. Donations of baby formula, baby food, temporal thermometers, infrared forehead thermometers and hygiene items are also vitally important.

7. Tell home-bound seniors about the Belleair Community Outreach Program. Through this program administered by the Town of Belleair, older adults (or anyone otherwise vulnerable to COVID-19) who may have difficulty shopping for essential items at stores can place orders at local retailers and a Town employee will pick those orders up and deliver them to the resident at no additional charge. Those who would like to take advantage of this service are asked to make an online request and must be able to pay for the supplies either over the phone or online prior to delivery. Essential items include prescription medications, non-perishable foods, grocery items, hygiene products, and paper goods. (Sorry — alcohol doesn’t qualify.)

8. Help St. Pete Rising feed healthcare workers and sustain local restaurants. The downtown development blog St. Pete Rising is teaming up with one local restaurant and one hospital or healthcare provider per day to raise money to provide daily meals for healthcare workers. So far they’ve delivered 1,775 meals and raised close to $68,000; monetary donations are welcome.

9. Applaud the efforts of The Burg Diner, Cass Street Deli and Smokin’ J’s. These are just three of many examples of local restaurants that are going above and beyond to help their communities. At The Burg Diner (2950 49th St. N. in St. Pete), owner Bill Georgiou has been giving away free pancake breakfasts on Wednesday and Thursday mornings from 9 a.m.-noon to feed anyone who asks. John Riesebeck, owner of Smokin’ J’s Real Texas BBQ in Gulfport (5145 Gulfport Blvd.) has been offering free bag lunches, no questions asked, from 12-2 daily. And at Cass Street Deli (1331 W. Cass St., Tampa), owner Suzanne Crouch was awarded a grant from the Restaurant Workers Relief Program (led by James Beard winner and Top Chef favorite Edward Lee) to feed laid-off hospitality workers for three weeks starting April 18.

10. Support Ready for Life’s Crisis Relief Campaigns. Ready for Life is a Largo-based non-profit that helps former foster care youth make a successful transition to adulthood. The organization needs donations to meet the increased needs of the population it serves during the pandemic. Its staff and volunteers are currently assembling meal kits each week containing enough food to feed a family of four for three-four days. They’re also creating “On the Road” (aka “homeless”) kits that include nutritious and filling shelf-stable items for three full meals for a few days, hygiene items and supplies. The number of kits provided each week will depend on food supply and community support.