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Tampa cafe serves the needy in a place of grace

Trinity Cafe opens its doors for the first time on weekends this Saturday at its new location on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times (2013) 

Trinity Cafe opens its doors for the first time on weekends this Saturday at its new location on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa.

When you have been helping to feed the hungry as long as Cindy Davis, you start to notice things.

Like how the crowd that gathers outside Trinity Cafe on gritty Nebraska Avenue to wait for a seat and a meal tends to grow at the end of the month, when paychecks run out.

Or Monday Morning Syndrome, when the bright dining room is quieter, people concentrating on the food set before them. And if you ask, some will say it's the first real meal they've had since the Friday before.

Improbable as it seems in this not-yet-recovered economy, Trinity Cafe near downtown Tampa opens its doors for the first time on weekends tomorrow, serving hot breakfasts Saturdays and Sundays. Those looking for a meal line up for a ticket at 8 a.m., breakfast at 9.

And did I mention hot coffee? They expect to go through 8 pounds of it. And Davis, Trinity's program director, could not sound happier. It has been a good year.

The cafe moved out of its dismal space upstairs in an old Salvation Army building and into this place all their own. It might not be tea at the Plaza, but it is clean, comfortable and nicely equipped.

And now, they are about to meet a longtime goal: To serve every day.

Maybe you're wondering: How much need can be out there? They had two soft-opening breakfasts. (Thanksgiving: ham steak, omelets, hash browns, biscuits and fruit. For Christmas, they were able to buy beef at 18 cents a pound through the Feeding America charity and serve steak and eggs — for the poor, a gift rare as snow in Florida.) Each day brought in 260 to 280 guests.

Interesting, how they got here: Back when they were looking to build that new building, Hillsborough commissioners said no to a request for $200,000 to help.

"Bricks and mortar does not make for a nourishing meal," Commissioner Victor Crist observed then.

In a rare case of putting money where one's mouth is (so to speak), the county this year more than doubled its contribution to the cafe to $150,000, helping make those breakfasts possible. "We'll have to apply next year like everyone else," says Davis, "but we are so blessed."

There is something about this place that stays with you. It has no smell of steam trays or hint of soup kitchen. It is hot food on real plates cooked by a meticulous five-star chef in chef whites, Alfred Astl. It is served by nice volunteers who refill glasses and bread baskets. Diners sit and maybe feel something close to normal for a while. Table talk is often about jobs, have you heard where there might be work, anyone hiring, anywhere?

Trinity's real appeal probably has mostly to do with not judging people about how they ended up here. It is a meal and a moment with something like grace in it.

And so Saturday it will be grilled pork chops, sausage muffins, mini omelets and fruit. Sunday: Denver omelets, turkey sausage, hash browns, fruit. The world may be cold, may get rainy. Inside Trinity Cafe, coffee will flow.

Lately the lunch crowd numbered 270 or so. "We sometimes have to turn a few people away," says Davis, and that is the worst thing, having to say no.

Now there will be less of that, two more days a week.

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Tampa cafe serves the needy in a place of grace 01/02/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 2, 2014 6:25pm]
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