ST. PETERSBURG — Advocates for the homeless say they've come up with a way to replenish the pantries of area food banks, feed hungry families and provide local restaurants some financial relief.
The proposed St. Petersburg Central Kitchen would collect restaurant leftovers and turn them into daily hot meals, which could be passed on to local service providers to feed their clients.
County officials estimate the program could help 3,500 hungry households and reduce the amount restaurants and food service facilities spend on solid waste disposal by 5 percent.
The kitchen would be modeled after a similar endeavor in Washington, D.C., that has operated for 20 years. The only problem? Despite the backing of local leaders and social service providers, the kitchen itself is still homeless.
Advocates can't find a property owner willing to donate land, and there is no funding to support the project. Organizers also need a part-time employee who would be willing to see the idea through.
"There is so much turmoil in this economic downturn that I think at this point if we could just locate a site and get a point person, I think the business community would want to help us," said council member Jamie Bennett, who serves on the St. Petersburg Homeless Task Force.
One major hurdle is convincing investors that the kitchen will not be a gathering spot for unruly homeless people, said George Bolden, director of development and performance evaluation for the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless.
"The Central Kitchen is not just for homeless," he said. "It's anti-hunger."
Meanwhile, the demand for donated food continues to grow as more families become homeless and more workers lose their jobs.
"We are surviving by the grace of God," said Karen Butler of ASAP Homeless Services in St. Petersburg, which provides a free breakfast to about 60 people each morning.
Patricia Waltrich, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul shelter and food bank at 15th Street N, said the kitchen would provide much-needed relief.
"The demand is definitely there," she said. "All you have to do is ride by our facilities and you can see the folks out there."
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.