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Season’s Feedings

With the season of goodwill approaching, local volunteers are hoping to provide a little companionship and a bit of food to those in need.

At Metropolitan Ministries’ red and white striped tent on Florida Avenue, bright aprons adorn volunteers who pack food in boxes. The Salvation Army, further down the same street, collects money and food for their annual Thanksgiving dinner.

Officials for both organizations are preparing for the masses with no idea how to quantify the need.

According to Warren Clark, a Temple Terrace pastor who directs Hillsborough County’s Hunger Coalition, the number of hungry people in the Tampa area needing a meal during the holidays may come close to 50,000.

The U.S. Census and the Department of Children and Families provide statistical data. Of the state’s homeless population, 50 percent are men, 25 percent are youths under the age of 18 and 25 percent of the total are families. Those numbers include only the people asking for help, since the numbers are derived from service organizations such as Metropolitan Ministries and the Salvation Army.

Metropolitan Ministries, one of two large local organizations and Tampa’s dominant provider, is expecting nearly 8,000 of these families. Their annual Holiday Assistance Program helps supply a family or individual in need with a holiday food basket.

In order to receive the Thanksgiving assistance, clients need to have contacted Metropolitan Ministries before Oct. 1. They also must receive Social Security assistance, be over the age of 62 or act as the sole guardian for children under the age of 18. Assistance for Christmas requires a referral by a designated social service provider or Hillsborough County School social worker, in addition to the Thanksgiving qualifications.For those looking to volunteer this holiday season, however, the door is still open.

Mario Salgado, a senior at Tampa Catholic High School, said he volunteered for the first time last year to fulfill community service hours required by the school.

“I had already done all the (required) hours this year,” he said.

“But I signed up to fix food packages again and talked five of my friends into it, too.”

Salgado is one of dozens of local residents who have volunteered to prepare the boxes full of Thanksgiving goodies for the Ministries’ program. He’s also one of thousands of citizens across the region who has decided to roll up their sleeves as the holiday season begins.

The Salvation Army, the second of the two large service organizations in the area, is also pleading for volunteers to help out in its busiest season. The organization provides hot meals to those in need on a daily basis, typically serving over 500 meals per day; during the holidays, that number increases by more than double.

“The difficulty is there are still people who need to eat,” said John Duhig, general manager for the Salvation Army in Tampa. He said there is always room for more volunteers and more people who are willing to spend their holiday helping others.

Less than half of the clientele at the kitchen are regulars. Most of them have recently lost a job, been evicted or lost a home, or find themselves in the middle of a chain of events brought on by bad luck or bad choices.

Such is the same at several smaller local kitchens that offer hot meals and much-needed companionship to those in need.And for the most part, the number of volunteers far exceeds the need.

Mollie McCain of the Volunteer Action Center said both kitchens operated in the area by the St. Vincent De Paul Society are typically booked solid with volunteers for both Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Beacon House, a kitchen run by the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, reports a ratio of 2 volunteers for every hungry diner.But they are more than willing to accept even more.

“It’s a time when people reflect on goodness, and they want to be there for people who don’t have a wonderful family, a support system, like they do,” said Dawna Sarmiento, director for Volunteers at Beacon House. “But they are the same giving, loving people year-round.”

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