TAMPA — At 7 p.m. Monday, as families across Tampa finished supper and turned on the television, a thousand people from different faiths filled a North Tampa church for something altogether different.
They came, they said over and over at a minister's prompting, "to do justice."
They packed Lake Magdelene United Methodist Church to hear the woes of a young woman whose untreated dental problems led to heart problems.
They listened to a formerly homeless man tell of his struggles to get shelter and medical care without identification.
Their numbers included Catholics, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Quakers, Muslims, Church of God, Unitarians, Lutherans and others.
All gathered under the auspices of a group called HOPE, Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality. Drawing inspiration from the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah, the annual Nehemiah Action calls on public officials to address pressing social issues. Faith-based groups in Pinellas drew more than 2,000 people to a similar event Monday.
"We gather together because our faith and our values and our principles call us — in fact, require us — to do justice in our community," Father Desmond Daly of Christ the King Catholic Church told the Tampa assembly.
Invited to the front of the church, Hillsborough County Commissioners Kevin White and Mark Sharpe nodded affirmatively and said "yes" when a HOPE representative asked them to commit to support allocating $30,000 in county funds to get birth certificates and IDs for 1,400 homeless people. They each agreed again when asked to support the county's establishment of 1,000 voice-mail boxes for the homeless, at $70,000.
The crowd applauded.
"Times are hard enough out here for people who have jobs," White said, "let alone people who don't have jobs."
But Sharpe stressed the need for the group to work with county officials in order for anything to be a success.
In a memo Monday, County Administrator Pat Bean told commissioners that the county was already working on similar initiatives involving homeless IDs and voice mail.
"We are concerned that HOPE board members are not being told of these efforts by their staff," Bean wrote.
Local health care officials were also put on the spot, asked to support a plan to improve dental care for 15,000 adults and children in Hillsborough County living in poverty. They, too, agreed.