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Metropolitan Ministries moves into St. Petersburg

Mark Parker



Volunteers revitalize a community garden at the Sanderlin Center less than two weeks after Metropolitan Ministries officially opened a St. Petersburg office at the facility. Photos courtesy of Metropolitan Ministries, Facebook.

Officials with Metropolitan Ministries are establishing a presence in South St. Pete to help transform communities in two zip codes with high childhood poverty rates by addressing the root causes.

For over 50 years, the nonprofit has provided a myriad of services for at-risk and homeless families from its expansive Tampa facility, and through 65 regional partners. However, Metropolitan Ministries’ leadership realized they could better serve “high-need” areas with a physical location and boots on the ground.

A new Metropolitan Ministries outpost opened Jan. 3 in St. Petersburg’s James B. Sanderlin Family Center on 22nd Avenue South. Jalem Robinson, director of community collaboration, said officials sought to make a difference in neighborhoods where over 35% of children live in poverty.

“Once we looked at those zip codes, we noticed we weren’t reaching the families that seemingly needed the most,” said Robinson. “So, we started looking at some of the landscapes of those communities to try and figure out where best our impact could start and influence the most change.”

The initiative is part of Metropolitan Ministries’ NeighborHOPE project. The organization identified eight impoverished zip codes in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties and is now investing in resources, services, collaboration and capacity building in those areas.

In Pinellas, those include 33755 in Clearwater and 33712 and 33705 in South St. Pete. The program’s website states that those communities have higher poverty rates, racial discrimination and health inequities.

The focus is addressing immediate, neighborhood-specific needs while providing future opportunities for economic mobility. Robinson noted Metropolitan Ministries already served St. Petersburg communities through local partnerships but now plans to take local prevention and support services “to the next level.”

“Our zip codes are not where our campuses are because we understand that we’re going to have to go outside our four walls to really get to those communities,” he added. “We can’t expect the need to come to us.”

A map showing the NeighborHOPE Project’s focus areas. Screengrab.

Robinson relayed that nonprofit leadership previously thought what a family in need looked like has changed. He noted a stable person could have an emergency, and require rental or utility assistance. However, he said those situations are often layered.

He elaborated that sometimes people need help paying an electric bill because their job does not provide a livable wage. Or maybe their job pays a livable wage, but they don’t receive enough hours.

In addition, the problem might not have anything to do with pay or hours and is instead the result of poor budgeting or too many expenses. Robinson said that taking an active role in the community will help peel back those layers and address underlying issues to enable self-sufficiency.

“They can eventually be in a place where they don’t need our services,” he said. “Because we’ve got them to a place where they can take care of their family the best way they already know how.”

Metropolitan Ministries’ leadership identified an ideal location “in the heart of South St. Pete” through talks with Dr. Celeste Collins, executive director of the Sanderlin Center. She relayed the impact and resources provided at the facility, and Robinson said stakeholders realized it could be a “wonderful partnership.”

Titos Vodka donated $50,000 to the NehighborHOPE Project and upkeep of the garden. It will provide nutritious food for families in need and serve as an educational resource for after-school programs.

He said accessibility is critical to the initiative’s success, which means identifying and eliminating common barriers. For example, he said that if an elderly person unfamiliar with technology needs help with an application, Metropolitan Ministries’ navigators or case managers will meet her in the community to assist.

Robinson also noted that his team could reach out to people at the organization’s emergency shelter and other departments to help push critical needs forward.

The Sanderlin Center is the organization’s first St. Petersburg, and Pinellas County, location. As such, Robinson said his team is currently identifying how they can best help residents. He added that addressing the root causes of poverty is a focus.

Robinson also stressed the importance of collaboration and utilizing Metropolitan Ministries’ capacity to propel other local nonprofits. While it might sound cliché, he said, the ultimate goal is to transform the communities – whether through preventative measures or assistance with bills, educational opportunities, health care accessibility or job resources.

“It’s not even about Metropolitan Ministries being the lead in that; it’s about us being a part of it,” said Robinson. “It would be ridiculous to think we could do it on our own. How can we help each other – so that we can help more people?”

For more information on the NeighborHOPE project, visit the website here.





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  1. Avatar

    Danny White

    January 29, 2023at2:33 pm

    This is most assuredly a good news story! Bravo to Metropolitan Ministries! Question: Where exactly is ‘South St Pete?’ Side-by-side Zip codes 33705 and 33712 encompass significant tracks of real estate that traverse diverse socio-economic neighborhoods, from north to south and east to west. 33705 stretches 14th Ave N to 70th Ave/Pinellas Point Dr S. Similarly, 33712 stretches Central Ave to 70th Ave/Pinellas Point Dr S. There are homes from $200K to millions; apartments with rents from $900 to $4K in both 33705 and 33712. So then, is the geographical reference ‘South St Pete’ analogous to certain neighborhoods within Zip codes 33705 and 33712?

  2. Avatar

    Shirley Hayes

    January 31, 2023at6:59 pm

    Mr. White, you obviously need to drive through the neighborhoods in the zip codes. They have different areas and different income levels. All the homes are not $200 thousand plus homes. Several working people have to live in some of the rentals just to keep from being homeless. Metropolitan Ministries obviously looked at the 2020 Census.

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