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Smaller Tampa Bay food pantries take hit amid pandemic

Demand at food pantries up, supply dwindling
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Posted at 1:11 AM, Jul 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-15 04:49:27-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Daniel Soares has been running a small community pantry at The Harbor Church in Westchase for the past year. But for the past several weeks, he has seen his shelves get very close to running empty and says by the grace of God, they always seem to get restocked just in time.

"We have a larger number of families that are coming primarily because of unemployment," says Soares.

Demand at the church's pantry has increased by nearly 25%. So many smaller community food pantries are telling similar stories across the Tampa Bay area since the COVID-19 pandemic drove thousands of residents into a place of need they never had before.

"If we could have more (food) for sure we would be able to serve more and more families," says Soares.

As of Wednesday morning, the Community Food Pantry says half the families they've helped this year are asking for assistance for the first time.

The director says without an increase in donations and funding they'll be forced to close by the end of the month.

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The church family at The Harbor has kept these shelves stocked, but so many smaller local pantries have been on life support through the pandemic. Donations, both food and financial, have dropped while demand increased.

The larger, more well-known nonprofits have the ability to weather this storm, but many smaller ones do not.

Soares says don’t forget about them. He certainly does not forget where he came from.

"When I was a little kid I was on the other side of this story. I was the one in need. The poor family who made it through with help from the community," he says.

FULL COVERAGE: The Rebound Tampa Bay

So when Soares retired three years ago, he turned into a full time volunteer. When he isn’t running the food pantry he’s running Marina’s Pizza in Westchase. And lately, he has been giving away dozens of pizzas every week at local hospitals for workers on the frontline.

From pizzas to pantries, Soares says he will still be here when we rebound out of these troubled times because the need will certainly still be there.

"The season that they are going through it’s part of life. They don’t need to be ashamed of that. Pretty soon it will be over," Soares says with optimism.