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Waveney Ann Moore: Rallying to meet holiday needs

Waveney Ann Moore



Containers overflow with donations for Metropolitan Ministries. Photo provided.

Halloween’s over, and so begins the mad rush toward Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

But not everyone will be dreaming of fall gatherings with turkey feasts or making merry with cups of eggnog beside a Christmas tree and presents. 

For families who struggle to make ends meet during the most ordinary of times, the thought of these celebratory times can be painful.  

Local agencies, already helping people cope with the rising cost of rent, utilities, gas and food, must plan for the holidays. And they’re asking for help. If you’re like me, you’ve probably already received appeals from Metropolitan Ministries, for instance. “You still have time to make a big difference this Thanksgiving,” a letter from the organization says. 

I learned this week that Metropolitan Ministries is teaming up with the St. Pete Free Clinic to set up two pop-up tents to provide holiday help here in St. Petersburg. The Tampa-based organization is also working with United Way to set up holiday pop-up sites in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.  

The need is great this year. More than 11,000 families applied for help a little more than a day after Metropolitan Ministries opened registration for its holiday meals, spokesperson Justine Burke said. 

The organization, like others, has been seeing the effects of rising costs. “All of those things affect everyone, especially the clients we serve. We’re seeing people come in saying that they’ve never had to ask for help before,” Burke said. 

Heide Cornell, executive director of Daystar Life Center, said the St. Petersburg agency saw a 49 percent increase in requests for help with rent and utilities for the months of July through October.  

“So, that’s just on the financial side. On average, we have 110 to 125 individuals who come to the food pantry every day. That’s also an increase. We’re on target to help 60,000 persons throughout Pinellas this year. That’s 20,000 more people than last year. And the majority has come on the back end, since the turn of the economy. This year, we’ve had calls coming in for holiday assistance since the end of September. We’re on target to help 200 families for Thanksgiving.” 

So far, 70 families have asked for help for Christmas, Cornell said, adding that Daystar expects about a 15 percent increase in its holiday assistance this year. 

“This year we’ve been asking for sponsors for Thanksgiving baskets. They cost about $50 a basket. We have been having folks donating turkeys to add to the baskets,” she said, adding that for Christmas, the agency is also asking for clothes and basics such as children’s underwear, shoes and socks. 

“Some of our families don’t have clothes,” she said. “More and more people are asking for the basics.” 

At the St. Pete Free Clinic, the pattern is the same. In a statement, CEO Jennifer Yeagley observed that in Pinellas County, groceries, healthcare and housing are more expensive than the national average, “but our area ranks last among major metros in wages paid.” 

At its We Help FRESH Pantry, the number of individuals served is up 30 percent over just this past spring, she said.  

“And our Health Center is enrolling an average of 55 new uninsured patients per month. Far from retreating, community need that escalated during the pandemic has increased significantly in recent months,” Yeagley said. 

The Free Clinic, she added, helps to ensure that people don’t have to decide whether to pay their rent or buy groceries for their families. “We help them bridge the gap by providing the essentials: Nutritious food, assistance with bills, healthcare, medication, and housing.” 

Financial donations, she said, are the best way to help the organization meet the increased need. 

And while a holiday meal and toys for children will not solve underlying problems, it can be a temporary balm for those struggling day-to-day.   

“The majority of these people will just skip the holidays,” Burke said, noting that it’s estimated that preparing a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal will cost double this year. “For some people, it is a luxury.”  

Metropolitan Ministries wants to give people a nice family meal, she said. 

But it’s more than that. A request for help with a holiday meal opens up a conversation “of how else we can help them,” Burke said. “We say that hope starts with a meal. They come to us for a meal, but we know they need so much more. So, this is that first step.” 

Meanwhile, the agency is pressing ahead with plans to feed thousands in the Tampa Bay area.   

“We have 27,000 turkeys in cold storage and that’s not enough. We are budgeted for 32,000 families, but we know we will see more. We need turkeys, canned vegetables, rice, potatoes …,” Burke said.  

Besides the traditional fixings, the organization also likes to include a treat like a healthy cereal, peanut butter, bread and even dessert – which might be a simple cake mix – in the holiday boxes. 

The pandemic prompted the agency to implement online registration so people can access its services. For holiday help, those in need must register online – – or in person. 

In addition to their main holiday distribution tent in Tampa – it’s the size of a football field – Metropolitan Ministries is setting up pop-up tents in “the highest areas of need” in Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Polk, Pinellas and Manatee counties. 

“We really want people to know that we are going out to the needy,” Burke said. 

“Collaboration among organizations strengthens our community,” Yeagley said. “We’re delighted to partner with Metropolitan Ministries this holiday season as a location for two of their pop-up tents for the holidays and look forward to defining more ways we can work together to support our neighbors in need in Pinellas County all year long.” 

The St. Pete Free Clinic’s pop-up sites will be at 15th Avenue S and 44th Avenue N. United Way’s sites will be in its building at the back of the John Hopkins Middle School campus in St. Petersburg, and in North Greenwood in Clearwater. 

At present, 12 pop-up sites are planned, but the total could go as high as 17, Burke said, adding that they will include two in Lee County, in struggling areas that were further devastated by Hurricane Ian.  

“We’ve gone down and met with other organizations and we are offering our help, our volunteers and our toys,” Burke said. “We are making sure we’re coming alongside those who are already working down there.” 

The holiday meal campaign is being carried out with military-like precision. 

“It’s the largest mobilization that Metropolitan Ministries has ever done in our 50-year history,” Burke said. “With the help of the community, we are able to do it. The only reason we are able to mobilize is because of all the collaboration. That’s what makes it so awesome. Everybody from all walks of life coming together to help someone that they don’t even know. It’s very unifying in the times we are in right now.” 




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    Shirley Hayes

    November 7, 2022at6:41 pm

    Thank God through Christ Jesus for these generous hearts. My Mom told me a little about ‘Hoover Days’ in the 1930’s. She was a little girl but remembered how difficult it was to get basic food needs. We must pull together and help each other. Open our hearts to our fellow man.

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