Connect with us


Local community leaders hope to reimagine hunger relief

Mark Parker



From left: City Councilmember John Muhammad; Pastor Karalynne Brubaker, founder of Positive Impact Ministries; Christie Bruner, vice president of advocacy for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce; and Rev. Kenneth Irby, faith and community justice liaison for the City of St. Petersburg share a light moment Friday at the Center for Health Equity. Photos by Mark Parker.

Over 61,000 St. Petersburg residents – 35.5% of the population – live in households that struggle to put food on the table after dedicating their income to soaring living costs.

Persistent hunger and the stress of wondering if your parents can afford the electric bill have an outsized impact on children who live in ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) homes. A local organization is now rallying civic leaders to transform the city’s approach to mitigating food insecurity.

Positive Impact Ministries formally launched its “Re-imagine St. Pete” campaign Friday at the Center for Health Equity. The goal is to collectively address hunger relief with dignity, reduce associated stigmas and empower those in need to overcome life’s obstacles.

“My goal for us today is to walk away from this meeting united in the fight against hunger,” said Karen Rae, executive director of Positive Impact. “Together, we will inspire hope and ignite change in our city.”

Bay News 9 reporter Erica Riggins moderated a panel of local leaders representing the various groups Positive Impact hopes to unite. They included Rev. Kenneth Irby, faith and community justice liaison for the City of St. Petersburg; Christie Bruner, vice president of advocacy for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce; Pastor Karalynne Brubaker, founder of Positive Impact; and City Councilmember John Muhammad.

Muhammad noted the common misconception that those seeking help are lazy or trying to game the system. He also refuted the notion that providing assistance creates dependency.

Bruner said the business community often regards food insecurity or an inability to afford daycare as a “personal problem.” She believes it affects employee productivity and puts the future workforce – their children – at a disadvantage.

“The challenge I think we’re continually facing is how do we make this an acknowledgment that we’re all in this together,” Irby said. “There’s so much that can be done by the faith community – if we would work together and build capacity.”

An attendee inevitably questioned why the city council did not consider Positive Impact’s proposal to purchase the beleaguered Tangerine Plaza. It has lacked a grocer since 2017, and the St. Pete-based nonprofit feeds about 700 families weekly from the vacuous site.

Muhammad explained the reality of what occurs in City Hall often diverges from perception. He learned “very early on” that government processes dictate possible outcomes.

The mayoral administration selected the Sugar Hill Group to redevelop the plaza and create a housing development with retail and grocer space. Muhammad said city council members typically approve or disapprove a previously negotiated contract.

“I think one of the things we can do … is start to write the plan,” he added. “That’s why we’re here today – to decide where we go from here.”

Positive Impact Ministries hopes to create a network of no-cost neighborhood markets to provide dignified hunger relief.

Muhammad said residents sometimes think the mayor and council members have a “magic wand” to solve complex problems. “The reality is it takes us – the community organizing ourselves.”

Positive Impact is doing that with or without Tangerine Plaza. Brubaker said the organization could continue providing preselected boxes of food from the site for at least a year; she also believes people deserve to choose what they eat according to tastes and dietary restrictions.

“So, what if we can give them a no-cost grocery store where they can come in with dignity and be able to shop, just like a Publix or Walmart,” she said. “And they can bring their children with them, pick out what they want to eat, and they would never know the difference.

“If we press forward, we can have many no-cost grocery stores across our city.”

People visit food pantries as a last resort, Irby said. Riggins recently spoke with a woman, kids in tow, who was putting Positive Impact’s groceries into a stroller.

The woman told Riggins that she couldn’t risk using what little gas she had left in her car to wait in the line, which typically snakes throughout the plaza’s expansive parking lots and clogs the surrounding streets. “We have to bear that burden,” Irby said. “Because in this society, all of us are one paycheck or tragedy away from being in need.”

In addition to no-cost neighborhood markets, Positive Impact hopes a citywide coalition will help create a network of urban gardens and a “farmacy” program that provides nutritional food and fitness and wellness education. The organization also has plans for a culinary arts center that offers hot, healthy meals and on-the-job training.

However, the first step is ensuring more kids can express the same delight as those who get to select one treat during Positive Impact’s food giveaways. “Folks, if we allow one in five children in this city to go to bed hungry, every one of us needs to be missing a meal every day,” Brubaker said.





  1. Avatar

    Steven Brady

    June 23, 2024at2:03 am

    35+ percent of the population of St. Petersburg can’t afford food?

    Why would anyone find that even remotely plausible?

  2. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    June 22, 2024at8:27 pm

    Positive Impact should have been allowed to purchase Tangerine Plaza.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us: spark@stpetecatalyst.com

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.