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Ahead of Thanksgiving, Kathy Castor looks to Feeding Tampa Bay to help solve food insecurity

“I’m not lazy. I’m just a mom trying to feed my special needs son.”

That’s the message on an enormous poster hanging from rafters over pallets of canned food and other non-perishable items at the Feeding Tampa Bay warehouse in Tampa.

The nonprofit agency serves 10 counties and feeds people throughout the region every day — not just Thanksgiving.

“Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to remind everyone that this is a challenge every single day for families across this country and especially here in West Florida,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor during a tour of the facility.

As she spoke, a team of about 25 volunteers filled bags with sweet potatoes to be distributed to various food pantries and community partners throughout the agency’s coverage area.

The giant warehouse also is a daily distributing arm for fresh foods ranging from strawberries and bananas to meats and cheeses.

The agency has seen an uptick in food contributions since President Donald Trump’s tariffs led to a backlash from farmers worried the tariffs would impact their bottom line. In response, Trump issued a $12 billion aid package to farmers.

While the influx in food contributions will help the agency provide more benefits — some families will receive up to six weeks worth of food rather than the previous one-week allocations — Feeding Tampa Bay is worried the cost to process that excess won’t be covered, according to Executive Director Thomas Mantz.

The agency expects to have to lease additional warehouse space to store cold foods and will need additional personnel to help distribute it.

“So, perhaps you could help us make that case,” Mantz said to Castor, asking for support securing  federal dollars to help cover additional expenses. 

Feeding Tampa Bay serves more than 600,000 individuals including nearly 200,000 children. It provides 46 million meals each year, a retail value of $100 million.

The agency says its charitable giving amounts to nearly $150 million in economic impact throughout the region.

“When you look at a basic family of four — a mom, a dad and two kids — even an income of some $65,000 a year, which sounds good, but that family winds up with less than $2.50 a day per person to spend on food,” Mantz said. “They have income. They have homes. They have jobs. They have responsibilities. But their obligations are greater than their income.”

A mom pictured on one of the posters whose son requires special medical needs is a featured client. She worked as a special education teacher, but a tumor in her leg left her unable to return to work. Now she cares for her son full time and her husband’s paycheck isn’t always enough to cover housing and medical costs and provide adequate food for the month.

Another poster shows a college student, Nevin, pursuing a degree in engineering on a scholarship. 

“I am not a burden,” his poster reads.

That’s the overall message Feeding Tampa Bay and its 550 agency and community partners want to send to potential donors.

“There are families across our community who are food insecure. Even though the economy has gotten better, we have so many families who still struggle to make enough money to make sure that their families have a healthy meal every single day,” Castor said. “Wages have just not kept up.”

The agency will see a surge in contributions — both financial and food — through this week as people begin getting in the holiday spirit, according to Mantz. But he hopes that civic-minded charitable pattern will continue throughout the year if people understand the power of providing healthy meals.

“My background is specifically in how strong, community-based food systems can lead to other community benefits — safer streets, lower crime and lower healthcare, which results in more money in our pockets. Every single one us regardless of whether or not we are directly impacted will have an effect on all of us,” said Monica Petrella whose graduate work at the University of Vermont centered on food insecurity.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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