Many Tampa residents don't know where their next meal will come from. Some have lost a job, lost a house to foreclosure or simply can't make ends meet. That's where Faith Café comes in. It's run by a consortium of seven South Tampa churches — Bayshore Baptist, Christ the King Catholic Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran, Hyde Park Presbyterian, Palma Ceia Presbyterian, St. Mary's Episcopal Church and St. John's Episcopal Church — whose members volunteer daily at the cafe, whose meals are provided by Metropolitan Ministries and local restaurants. The cafe was temporarily closed from July 2012 until earlier this year, as it was moving from Kennedy Boulevard to Clearview Avenue. Times staff writer Paul Driscoll recently sat down with Ger DeLoatche, 55, to talk about the cafe's history, what she envisions for the future and what it means to be president of the organization.
What brought you to Faith Café?
I was brought to Faith Café because I was head of outreach for the school my children were attending (Christ the King), and the church was one of the founding churches of Faith Café. I was their representative and helped establish and open Faith Café.
Give me a little background about it.
Originally, Faith Café was founded by four local churches. We are approaching our 13th year in serving the needy in the area. We used to serve on Kennedy Boulevard and have since purchased our property and built our own facility on Clearview Avenue. We serve the needy six days a week by serving them a hot meal. The meal is provided by Metropolitan Ministries. We supplement that meal with drinks and desserts. Most days, we prepare a second helping with the donations that we receive from the local community. Three days a week we distribute donated clothing and toiletries.
What does it mean to you to be president of this organization?
I am proud to be president of Faith Café. I have been with Faith Café since the beginning and we have continued to grow as an organization without losing sight of our mission. The population that we serve needs us. Unfortunately, there really aren't a lot of places for them to go.
How has it grown and where do you envision it in a few years?
We have grown in so many ways. Recently, though, it was our ability to build our new facility. Throughout that process, we were amazed and in awe of the financial and material support we received from the community at large. From the contractors, engineers, suppliers and the cash donations we received from all of them and their belief in what we do, we were able to open our new facility and better serve our guests. We are currently working toward providing the social work that is necessary to further help our guests. We are establishing our social work office and will begin with establishing an emergency contact file for our guests for notification purposes. I would love to see a future that actually provides some form of housing — temporary or otherwise.
What are some ways you incorporate your job into your personal life?
Being involved in some form of social work has always been a part of my personal life. I ran a food bank for our church when we lived in California, and I did this kind of work throughout college. As far as incorporating it into my personal life, my kids will tell you that I always involved them with whatever I was doing. They helped, volunteered and were exposed to whatever the project was.
Share a success story of a person or persons that Faith Café helped.
One of the guests, who was a regular, I had known him for at least 10 years. His only problem was getting off the streets on a fixed income. He wanted off and we worked so hard to identify a place that he could afford. We were finally able to get him on a waiting list, and after a good 10 months on that waiting list, we moved him in. We put the word out to our volunteers and got him furniture, and we emptied his storage unit and moved him in. I remember the day I picked him up at Faith Café to drive him to his new home, and how he told me about his last night on the street, and how he cleaned up the area he was sleeping in, and how he wasn't going to miss the bugs buzzing him at night. He has been "off" for two years now. His health has improved, he has lost weight and he loves his new home.
Sunday conversation is edited for clarity and brevity.