SEFFNER — An atmosphere of gratitude overflowed outside the Bay Life Chapel campus grounds last week as individuals waited anxiously in line with their backpacks, belongings and bicycles to seek assistance in turning their lives around.
Deputies from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office teamed with Tampa Police Department officers and nearly 100 volunteers for a HCSO Homeless Initiative outreach event on Jan. 31.
Deputies shook hands and words of "thank you" filled the campus of the recipients at the event. Church members stood in a circle to hold hands and pray with the individuals. The initial goal is to provide necessities for the population, but the event also offered references to service providers.
"Each case is different," said Deputy Josh Boyer. "Some will only benefit from the free items given out, but we hope that the homeless individuals who really want the help off the streets, will contact the service providers and get that extra assistance."
Volunteers from the Brandon Elks Lodge's "United in Brotherly Love" group distributed free hot dogs, hamburgers, coffee, hot chocolate, cold bottled water and more.
American Legion Post 248 donated 15 bicycles that officials raffled off, which Florida Licensing On Wheels registered. The bicycle winners also received locks.
Bus passes from HART and backpacks donated to Thomas Brown at Tampa Crossroads were included in the raffle. More than 30 various nonprofits, churches, businesses and organizations provided aid, hopefully to people in the process of transforming their lives.
"I received a blanket to keep me warm," said Christine, who only wanted to give her first name. "I am thankful for the many wonderful resources here and Deputy Boyer."
Individuals checked-in at the registration table and got handed a voucher that required five signatures before receiving the blankets, toiletries, food, clothing and other essentials.
By doing this it gave them an opportunity to get their name placed into a raffle to win backpacks, bicycles and bus passes. More than 100 people registered.
"Everyone here seems so welcoming and thank you Deputy Boyer," said another recipient who goes by the name Jersey.
Bay Life Event Coordinator and Missions department member Melanie Langston felt ecstatic to see the Homeless Outreach event at the Bay Life Chapel campus, once the site of the I Am Hope Cafe when First Baptist of Mango controlled the property.
"One of our service areas at Bay Life would be helping the homeless and the church stands behind it 100 percent," Langston said.
Seffner remains an area of need when it comes to working with the homeless. Boyer said estimates count the number of homeless in District II — an area bounded by U.S. 301 to the east, County Line Road to the west and Lumsden Road/Causeway Boulevard to the south — at approximately 120 people. Nearly 50 out of that 120 are estimated to be in Seffner.
The initiative's next outreach event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 14 at Target Plaza in the University Area. For more information about HCSO Homeless Initiative, visit tbtim.es/18y9.
Contact Tatiana Ortiz at [email protected]