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In tough times, Tampa Bay food banks struggle to meet increased needs

Jane Trocheck Walker, executive director of Daystar Life Center, unloads a vanload of donations from St. Petersburg Catholic High School. The pantry’s shelves were well-stocked, but were expected to be depleted soon by the Thanksgiving holiday.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Jane Trocheck Walker, executive director of Daystar Life Center, unloads a vanload of donations from St. Petersburg Catholic High School. The pantry’s shelves were well-stocked, but were expected to be depleted soon by the Thanksgiving holiday.

To see Jane Trocheck Walker at her food pantry in downtown St. Petersburg is to wonder how anyone could ever run out of food.

She is surrounded by hundreds of cans of fruits and vegetables from the shelves of Daystar Life Center. She walks past huge bags of onions slumped on the floor, rows of pasta and sauce, containers of peanut butter and jelly, boxes of cereals and grains. Even fresh pineapple.

But hours before the Thanksgiving holiday, among the best times of year for food donations, her thoughts are of running out. Widespread and unrelenting need from Florida's lagging economy will soon wipe out supplies.

In past years, donations at Thanksgiving and Christmas would carry this and other food pantries into spring. Now, Walker said, she will be lucky if the food is still around by February. And some food banks worry they don't be able to make it through the holidays.

"This is the time of year when people are more mindful, although, you know, when was the last time you didn't eat all summer long?" she said.

High demand and diminishing supply means some Tampa Bay pantries likely will open fewer days and provide less food for each person.

Organizations that rely on donations aim to make food supplies donated during Thanksgiving last until May, said Debbi McCarthy, development director for Feeding America Tampa Bay, which serves 10 counties in west-central Florida, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.

The U.S. Postal Service launches its annual food donation push the Saturday before Mother's Day in May, making it one of the biggest donation events of the year.

But lasting until May is a tough feat these days, Walker said. "That kind of volume of food doesn't last now," she said.

McCarthy pointed to the roughly 518,000 people living in poverty in her west-central Florida region.

Local food banks are seeing those numbers in the long lines of hungry mouths.

The number of people seeking meals at the St. Giles Episcopal Church food bank in Pinellas Park is greater than ever, said Brian Trimble, a warehouse administrator and board of directors with the church.

On Wednesday, about 150 people were in line.

"I can tell you right now," he said, "our shelves are bare."

He said the food bank gets government food subsidies, so it always will have a steady supply of food, but other organizations that rely wholly on donations will struggle in the upcoming months.

The food bank will be lucky to carry any sort of reserve of food into February, he said. "On a normal year, it probably would take you into May," Trimble said."

"It's probably been one of the busiest seasons," he said.

>>Fast facts

If you want to donate food

bay area Food banks

Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Center: 2100 N Florida Ave., Tampa, FL 33602; (813) 209-1034

Joining Hands Community Mission: 3214 U.S. 19, Holiday, FL 34691

Taking it to the Street Ministries: 7320 47th St., Pinellas Park, FL 33781

Pasadena Presbyterian Church: 100 Pasadena Ave. N, St. Petersburg, FL 33710. Contact: Gene Hammond, (727) 412-4382

Countryside Christian Center: 1850 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater, FL 33759-1814. Contact: Kerry Warner, (727) 799-1618, ext. 836

Daystar Life Center

226 Sixth St. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701-4661; (727) 825-0442

St. Vincent de Paul

Food Center Kitchen, 15th St. N and Fourth Ave. N, St. Petersburg, daily between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

On the Web

Find more agencies seeking

food donations at

feedingamericatampabay.org.

In tough times, Tampa Bay food banks struggle to meet increased needs 11/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 11:25pm]

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