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Habitat, Feeding Tampa Bay launch partnership

Margie Manning

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Mike Sutton (left), president and CEO, Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County and West Pasco County, and Thomas Mantz, president and CEO, Feeding Tampa Bay

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties and Feeding Tampa Bay joined forces on a Thanksgiving eve “give back” event in Largo.

The event also was the kickoff of a long-term partnership between the two nonprofit organizations, said Mike Sutton, president and CEO of Habitat, and Thomas Mantz, president and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay.

Volunteers provided Thanksgiving meals to 120 residents of the Dansville neighborhood of Largo, a 68-acre community in the Greater Ridgecrest area.

Volunteers filled bags and boxes with Thanksgiving food for residents in the Dansville neighborhood of Largo.

They also spruced up the neighborhood with landscaping and cleanup efforts, using materials donated by Lowe’s.

Ashley, a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, working on a beautification project in the Dansville neighborhood of Largo.

Pinellas County has spent 25 years and millions of dollars building infrastructure, buying land and planning for new housing and amenities in the community, which is a prime example of what can be accomplished with public-private partnerships, Pinellas County administrator Barry Burton said in a news release.

“We’ve completed 50 homes in this neighborhood, bringing affordable housing to an area in extreme need. The county just partnered with us to give us another 28 lots here, so about 75 families will call this area home,” Sutton said. “Because we have such a vested interest in this community, over the last five years we’ve always done something on Thanksgiving eve as a way to give back to it.”

This year, the need was even greater, given the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the outbreak hit, there were 625,000 people in the 10-county area Feeding Tampa Bay serves who were food insecure, Mantz said. Now, there are over 1 million people who are food insecure, which means they lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.

“Everyone knows someone who has been affected by Covid and a lot of those folks are inside our food lines today. At certain points, 70 percent of the people in our food lines had never been in one before,” Mantz said. “People who in March were considering a new car or a family vacation, by summertime were figuring how to keep their families afloat. It’s been significant. It’s been heartbreaking many times. We’ve seen an increase and we expect to see an increase for quite a while.”

Going forward, Feeding Tampa Bay will be stocking the pantry for every Habitat home that’s completed, Sutton said.

“It’s a nice jumpstart for the homeowner. Food costs just continue to rise and so Feeding Tampa Bay stepping up and doing this is going to mean so much to the homeowners,” Sutton said.

“What Mike and his team do so well is make sure there’s safety and security of a home, that folks can live in a dignified way. What we hope to do with food is make sure they’re healthy. You create a terrific partnership and when the family comes into that environment it really bodes well for their future success,” Mantz said.

Both organizations rely on the generosity of the community for both volunteer time and financial donations.

“Folks have responded very generously because they understand food is such an important issue. They know that their friends, neighbors, colleagues are struggling. We’ve been helped by that generosity. We’ve got a long way to go. We still have a huge gap to fill. Our community is very generous, we just have a lot more need than we ever have,” Mantz said.

Fear that support for Habitat would dwindle in the pandemic has not materialized, Sutton said.

“We will build a record number of homes this year, and that doesn’t just happen if the community doesn’t step up and rally behind you,” he said.

Since 1985, Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties has served more than 840 families and individuals through its new home buyer and exterior repair programs using funds raised locally. The organization completed its 600th home in February. To apply for help, or to volunteer or donate, click here.

Feeding Tampa Bay’s website, feedingtampabay.org, includes ways to help, including donations, as well as locations where people can find food in their own communities.

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