As the Tampa Bay area continues to rebound from the pandemic, Feeding Tampa Bay is celebrating the first anniversary of their Mega Pantries.
“We saw about 375,000 folks across our 10 counties. That’s just in the mega pantries alone,” said Thomas Mantz, the CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay.
Feeding Tampa isn’t just feeding families, either. The organization has also offered work to people during this rough time.
“Today’s an emotional day for me,” said Chris Brewer.
Brewer is the director of distribution for FTB. Before that, he was one of the hundreds of volunteers who gave up their Saturdays and risked their lives to feed hungry families.
“Literally, over your shoulder is the corner where I first started directing traffic,” he said.
Brewer is retired from the air force and started volunteering with Team Rubicon.
“I just knew I had the passion and the drive to want to give back,” he said. “After a life of military service, the opportunity to do something during Covid, instead of walking around to see what happens, is the spark that lit the fire for me.”
Thankfully he did step in. FTB needed the help because the need grew every week. The Mega Pantries are now vital.
“So many more people flooded into our care,” said Mantz.
When you factor in the other programs and smaller food pantries, FTB helps. Mantz said they provide nearly 90 million meals last year.
“That would have been unthinkable two years ago,” he said.
The Mega Pantries are staying, even once we’re “back to normal.”
“We’re glad people are getting the vaccine. We’re happy to see things are getting better, but even with that, the need will still be there,” said Mantz. “It’s going to take a while for families to rebuild.”
FTB also has its own job training program, which some volunteers, like Brewer, have gone through.
“That’s the next part of this. Helping families rebuild, for many, that’s employment opportunities,” said Mantz.
According to Mantz, about 25 people graduated from the training program about a week ago.
“We are here to help how we can. The pandemic may have impacted our goal of making Tampa Bay hunger-free, but it hasn’t stopped us,” said Mantz.