Feeding Tampa Bay is changing lives one meal at a time.
WORDS: Amy Bell
Across the Tampa Bay area, hundreds of thousands of people are considered “food insecure.” This means they do not have consistent, easy access to safe, nutritionally adequate food. While you may assume food insecurity is something that impacts only homeless people, this is not the case. Many working adults, children, and elderly people also lack access to nutritious food.
Fortunately, Feeding Tampa Bay, part of the national Feeding America network, is on a mission to stamp out hunger. “As the backbone of hunger relief, Feeding Tampa Bay is the largest food rescue and distribution organization in our community, serving a food-insecure population of more than 600,000 people in a 10-county region,” explains Rhonda Gindlesperger, Chief Operations Officer of Feeding Tampa Bay.
Founded in 1982, Feeding Tampa Bay recovers surplus food from local farmers, manufacturers, supermarkets, and organized community food drives, and distributes it to those in need. Gindlesperger says they accomplish this through direct distribution programs and a partnership network of more than 500 community partners. Collectively, the organization and its network distribute 4 million meals each and every month to community members who would otherwise go hungry.
“Feeding Tampa Bay’s mission is to change lives one meal at a time by leading our community in the fight against hunger,” Gindlesperger emphasizes.
Feeding the Community
Feeding Tampa Bay offers numerous programs to assist hungry individuals throughout the region, including Manatee County. “Hunger affects children in our local schools, grandparents living on a fixed income, veterans who have fought for our country, and working families who are trying hard to make ends meet – hunger affects everyday people every day,” says Gindlesperger.
As the needs of the community continue to change, she says Feeding Tampa Bay’s programs and services are also evolving. “With many factors contributing to food insecurity and families’ needs, our goal is to break down barriers and increase access to nutritious foods to ultimately create opportunities that strengthen everyone in the household.”
For instance, the organization offers a Mobile Pantry Program, which delivers perishable and non-perishable groceries directly into areas where access to grocery stores is low. The Early Learning Coalition (ELC) of Manatee County recently partnered with Feeding Tampa Bay to provide this service to local families. This mobile pantry is offered the first Saturday of every month from 9:00am to 10:30 am at the ELC, located at 600 8th Avenue West Suite 100 in Palmetto. Families can stop by to collect one box of free food, and there is no ID required. More than 100 families visited the ELC’s first ever Feeding Tampa Bay Mobile Pantry event on February 2nd, and these numbers continue to grow.
“Through Feeding Tampa Bay’s agency partner network – like the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County – we are able to distribute food in the neighborhoods where people live and work,” remarks Gindlesperger.
Feeding Tampa Bay also offers the Feeding Minds School Pantry Program, which houses pantries onsite in schools, as well as its Trinity Cafe program, which serves families a hot meal every day. “The goal is to ensure families who are already strained by time and money have various options to access nutritious food in convenient ways,” she explains. “These direct distribution programs, among others the organization deploys, are all aimed to deliver healthy foods directly to our neighbors in need.”
Additionally, Feeding Tampa Bay recently launched a new strategic plan entitled IMAGINE. “The organization has a bold vision for the future and we invite everyone to join us as we create a hunger-free community, providing 115 million meals every year, by 2025,” she adds. Visit FeedingTampaBay.org/IMAGINE to learn more.
A Rewarding Role
Gindlesperger says her job with Feeding Tampa Bay is extremely gratifying. “The most rewarding part is having the privilege to be able to meet and work with so many dedicated people who are passionate about our community,” she says. “When I give a tour of Feeding Tampa Bay and share all of the work we and our agency partners are doing, I am proud of the impact we have made and inspired and energized about the direction we are headed.”
She also takes comfort knowing that neighbors who would otherwise go hungry are enjoying meals with their families. “To know that families can gather around their table and share a meal together – and that I get to be a part of making that possible alongside our partners, volunteers and the team at Feeding Tampa Bay – is extremely rewarding and powerful. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to serve our community and can imagine a hunger-free Tampa Bay.”
However, Gindlesperger points out that Feeding Tampa Bay cannot accomplish its mission without the community’s support. She says there are three different ways you can get involved with the organization:
“The work we do doesn’t happen without a community rallied behind us,” she adds. “With food playing a role in all of our lives, we invite everyone to find a way to get involved that means the most to you.”