Girl wearing mask

With tourism-related jobs on pause, food needs rise

Feeding Tampa Bay answers the call to aid thousands of newly-unemployed Floridians

On a Saturday in a parking lot near Tampa, there are hundreds of cars lined up for food – each with a unique story. There are scenes that Thomas Mantz, President and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay, won’t forget: Tears in the eyes of men and women who never imagined themselves in a food line; a little girl pressing a napkin with a hand-written message—“Thank You”—against the car window.

With the area’s tourism-dependent businesses shuttered, many are finding themselves without steady employment, and the demand for food assistance is staggering, Mantz says. As many as 70% of those in line for 50- to 60-pound food packages are seeking aid for the first time. “Eight weeks ago they had good jobs, they had comfortable prospects.” Some even tell him that they once volunteered with his group.

If there’s a storm, we run into it. We’re built for this.
Thomas Mantz | Feeding Tampa Bay President and CEO

In this hurricane-prone region, responding to emergencies is nothing new for Feeding Tampa Bay, which offers meals, job training and more to hundreds of thousands of food insecure families in the 10-county Tampa Bay area. “If there’s a storm, we run into it,” Mantz says. “We are built for this.”

Feeding Tampa Bay has responded with resilience and compassion. Working with local restaurants, the organization’s two Trinity Cafes have pivoted from serving 500 meals a day in-person to delivering 8,500 to-go meals to seniors and families with children. With changes to the supply chain as a result of the coronavirus, the organization has had to buy food for the first time, spending more than $1 million already. Volunteer supply isn’t able to meet the increased need, so Feeding Tampa Bay has hired furloughed workers to fill the gaps, further straining budgets.

Businesses have responded with crucial support, including $200,000 from Bank of America as part of its overall $100 million commitment to affected communities. Other donations, more than Mantz can count, come from individuals who understand it could very easily be them in line. Ten dollars here, $20 there. “It always strikes me when someone sends a note that says, “Look, I can't do much, but here is what I have,’” says Mantz. In the face of incredible generosity, he adds, “We’re grateful for the opportunity to help.”

To address heightened food insecurity and other needs amplified by the coronavirus, Bank of America has committed $100 million to nonprofits nationally, which is in addition to the $250 million in philanthropy the bank contributes annually. Learn more about these and other efforts to help local communities.

Originally published 6/8/2020