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Pinellas Commissioners to host meet and greet and food drive in revitalized Lealman

The event will also highlight improvements in the area under the county’s first unincorporated CRA.

Pinellas County Commissioners will be on hand Tuesday evening for a holiday meet and greet and food drive at the Lealman Exchange.

Commissioners will be available to meet with residents as they collect non-perishable food items for the Florida Dream Center, a non-profit organization that helps feed food insecure individuals and families, among other human services.

The event runs from 4-7 p.m. at 5175 45th St. N.

Lealman Exchange opened last year as part of a 30-year effort to redevelop and revitalize the Lealman area. The 77,000 square-foot campus offers programs including youth mentoring, after-school care, adult education, workforce training and health and human services.

The County purchased the property in late 2017 for $11 million using funds from Penny for Pinellas. The county runs the Lealman Exchange through its Community Redevelopment Area, which was the first CRA established in unincorporated Pinellas County.

“When I was in the Legislature we used to have a holiday open house at my office every year,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice who has long been a champion for revitalizing the Lealman area. “In the Commission we don’t really have that kind of setting so we thought it was a way to do a twofer — collect some food for a good cause and get people into the building and into Lealman.”

Justice said there are still Pinellas County residents who are unfamiliar with the area, which has been marked by decades of economic struggle and blight. He hopes the food drive serves not only as an opportunity to gather food for those in need, but also to draw attention to opportunities within the Lealman area including the Exchange.

“We have a commission right now that is committed to putting the big fiscal investment of the Exchange in there and who is now committed to putting resources and staffing to keep moving the needle forward. It’s a continually evolving process,” Justice said.

Residents interested in attending are asked to bring any non-perishable food items like canned soups, meats or vegetables. And when in doubt, Justice said, peanut butter is always a good option.

The county is providing light refreshments and will have staff available to answer questions about the latest plans for the Lealman Exchange.

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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