Youth and the Community
One in seven people living in the Tampa Bay area struggle with hunger, while one in five children miss breakfast, lunch, or even dinner. According to Feeding America, 2,871,650 people in Florida are struggling with hunger — 857,150 of them being children.
In response to this hunger, Feeding Tampa Bay has made it its mission to “change lives one meal at a time” with the ultimate vision of creating a hunger-free Tampa Bay by serving the 10-county area of West Central Florida.
One way Feeding Tampa Bay reaches youth is through its After School Meals Program, which allows low-income children the opportunity to receive free nutritious meals and snacks through after-school activities in the community.
For many children, this program supplies the only hot meal they receive each day. These meals are possible through a collaboration between Feeding Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough County Park and Recreation Department. The collaboration started last fall and currently has a total of 60 students enrolled.
One of these students includes 11-year-old Deniya, who attends Thonotosassa Elementary School.
After School Meals Program
(Deniya swings on a playground outside of Thonotosassa Park & Recreation Center after enjoying a plate colored with green edamame, yellow corn, creamy mac and cheese, roasted turkey, juicy pineapples, and classic milk provided by Feeding Tampa Bay. Deniya has been with the After School Meals Program at Thonotosassa since its opening.)
Deniya says she looks up to the adults leading the program and enjoys spending time with the other children, many of whom have become a second family to her. One of these supervisors includes Darlene Nelson, 42, who has been working in parks and recreation for 20 years now.
(Darlene Nelson puts together two plates being served for children at the After School Meals Program held at Thonotosassa Recreation Center. Photo by Deshlee Ford)
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have this,” Darlene said. “ We didn’t have the opportunities for this. We had free lunch . . . but we never had warm meals like this. I’m happy we have evolved to this point. I’m happy that we’re doing better things and more things for the community.”
(Darlene Nelson shares why she values the After School Meals Programs and how it helps families in her community.)
Feeding Tampa Bay also reaches out to families who cannot afford transportation and who are not surrounded by affordable, quality foods. The nonprofit does this through its Mobile Food Pantries Program, designated to reach these “food deserts” and supply fresh food and produce.
Feeding Tampa Bay volunteer Ogretta Miller emphasized how important it is for our youth to become involved in volunteering at a young age.
“Those children are going to want to grow up and give back to their communities,” she said.
(Ogretta Miller stands in front of the refrigerated truck used to carry produce, meat, and non-perishable items for mobile food pantries across the Tampa Bay area. Photos by Deshlee Ford.)
For Ogretta, volunteering is her way of giving back, and it goes hand-in-hand with spreading kindness.
“I want to make everyone smile,” she said. “I want to smile at everyone when they walk up. I want to treat them with respect and dignity because they may not feel that for themselves, but I want them to feel that after their interaction with me. That’s my way of spreading kindness.”
Through Feeding Tampa Bay, these opportunities to further connect with the Tampa Bay community and spread kindness are made possible for not only adults and teenagers, but also children of all ages.
During one of Feeding Tampa Bay’s Family Nights, families and children were given the opportunity to participate in a night filled with fellowship, fun, and giving back.
Damien and Peggy Stines-Munnings and their two daughters, Maëlle and Noémi, welcome family night as an opportunity to give back to their community while also growing as service minded individuals during the process.
“What they can give to anything or anyone is their time,” Damien said. “Not every organization (gives them a chance so) they can participate. An organization like this encourages them to give of their time.”
Feeding Tampa Bay Staff
Sometimes a solution for hunger appears too-far-off-to-reach, but Clarissa Rain, Feeding Tampa Bay’s community programs coordinator, says it can be found closer than you think — right here in our own backyards.
“There is something we can do about it,” Clarissa said.
The first step in her agenda to fighting hunger in Tampa Bay is to raise awareness in the community around the fact that it is an issue for our neighbors, for our friends, and for our families. Once the community is on board, the ship can sail more smoothly.
“The community is really the backbone to everything we do,” Clarissa said. “And nothing we do is possible without community support. So I think they mean everything to us.”
(Clarissa Rain/Community Programs Coordinator)
From donors, to partnering with Publix, Walmart, and manufacturers like Tropicana distribution centers, Feeding Tampa Bay receives food and financial donations that help the organization feed its hungry neighbors. There are over 600 partner agencies who actively help pass out food, 20,000 volunteers who lend their hands and their time, and about 64 staff members who work to make sure all of this runs smoothly.
“We are such a family,” Clarissa said about her sixty plus staff. “We all believe in the mission…but I think one of the really great things about our staff is that we are all in this together, and so, we’re all willing to lend each other a hand.”
When dealing with something as important as putting meals on the table, Clarissa said the atmosphere of being a family is a huge commodity when working with food banking.
“You can’t do anything without working together,” she said.
Clarissa and her family at Feeding Tampa Bay continually strive to work toward the ultimate goal of feeding hungry neighboring families of the Tampa Bay community and to challenge its meal gap of 115 million meals.
“Our ultimate goal would be to close that gap,” Clarissa said. “That everybody has a meal on the table and everyone has the opportunity to sit down with their family and have that experience.”