Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Summer muffles the cries for help

On the sidewalks along Florida Avenue just north of downtown Tampa, people gather under the noonday sun. Many carry ragged bedrolls strapped to their backs.

They are talking or smoking or heading toward one of the nearby buildings, places to get a hot meal or a bed or just help — help obtaining a legal ID card that is a giant step toward becoming part of the regular world, help with a bill, help with a job.

As I'm driving by, I see the marquee in front of Metropolitan Ministries. It sounds like a plea: URGENTLY NEED PEANUT BUTTER.

Metropolitan Ministries is one of those places people tend to think of at Thanksgiving, when volunteers line up to help feed the hungry, or Christmas, when the thought of children without toys or families without a Christmas meal tends to hit home. At the holidays, donations get steady enough that they set up a big tent here with a super-efficient drive-through manned by enthusiastic volunteers. To donate food or toys or clothes or checks, you don't even have to get out of your car.

Summer is different. Summer can be long and hot and dry. This could be one of the driest yet.

The ministries is home to about 40 families who live in dormitory-style concrete block rooms as they work to get back on their feet. There is a two-month waiting list. As many as 150 people find their way here every day for anything from groceries to health care to help finding a job, up a good 20 percent from last year.

People wait outside in the shade or inside in the cool lobby. Children in dirty T-shirts chase each other around, and grownups who look just shy of homeless sit waiting to be called to see a counselor. I also notice a guy in a workman's uniform with his name stitched over the pocket, and across the room, a woman in doctor's office scrubs.

"It is more the working poor we're seeing," says ministries spokeswoman Ana Mendez. More cars repossessed, more homes in foreclosure.

Deeper inside the building is a market. "Clients" who qualify get a voucher to pick out cereal and cake mix and other groceries from neatly stacked shelves instead of being handed a generic food basket. A woman who is just out of a domestic violence shelter and has found a place for her family to rent is getting food here today. Prices are going higher and higher, she says. She hunted down milk 10 cents cheaper than usual at Wal-Mart. Her kids can go through a gallon a day.

"They're saying everything is going up," says Emma Colon, a volunteer in the market. "Gas, food, everything but their salary."

Even the volunteers who pick up meals here to be served at churches and centers as far away as Pinellas and Polk counties worry these days about the price of the trip.

Why peanut butter, I ask.

Protein, they tell me. It's nutritious and filling, it's portable, it can go on bread or crackers, kids like it, and it lasts. And they don't have enough. Canned fruit is running a close second.

The other day I was standing in an aisle in Publix, complaining to myself about the price of the bottle of olive oil in my hand. A woman I didn't know heard me and commiserated — terrible, isn't it? And we each wheeled away with one in our carts.

You can contact Metropolitan Ministries at (813) 209-1000 or

Summer muffles the cries for help 06/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 5:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    Associated Press

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. The people you meet along O.J. Howard Lane


    AUTAUGAVILLE, Ala. —The screen door hangs open to Laura's Country Kitchen but the dining room is empty with no one to feed.

    OJ Howard (far right) is seen in a photo from his adolescent years at Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala., on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Howard served as an usher in addition to attending regular services at this church.
  3. St. Pete Pride schedule and live blog

    Special Topics

    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth Avenue …

    A local business rings in Pride 2017 with some window decorations.
  4.   Jake Faria has pitched 6-1/3 innings and has allowed one run in each of this first three starts.