Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Supporters rally behind Clearwater soup kitchen

Randy Huber, left, and Glen Morton, right, sort vegetables in the kitchen of the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen last year in Clearwater. The facility feeds around 200 people per day.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times (2011)

Randy Huber, left, and Glen Morton, right, sort vegetables in the kitchen of the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen last year in Clearwater. The facility feeds around 200 people per day.

CLEARWATER — A city initiative to discourage donations to the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen seems to have backfired, with supporters sounding a rallying cry for donations and city leaders backing off in pursuit of other ideas.

In a meeting last month with homelessness consultant Robert Marbut, City Manager Bill Horne wrote that urging donors to stop contributing to the 30-year-old soup kitchen could help the city consolidate homeless services outside city limits.

But after backlash over what some called an overbearing attempt to sever the kitchen's supply lines, Horne said officials will focus on less sensitive steps toward what he has called "the most comprehensive city response to homeless issues" in history.

"It's hard for people to understand what the overall goal is, and they get fixated on some of the short-term measures," Horne said. On discouraging donations, he added: "There are so many other things we want to accomplish within the next 90 days, and I can tell you that is not one of them."

The idea was only one of many, Horne said, and officials have placed higher priority on actions like increasing police and counselor patrols for people living on the street.

But local homeless advocates said it was only the city's most recent slight against the soup kitchen, long portrayed as a source for neighborhood strife in the East Gateway district next to downtown.

"Without a doubt, (St. Vincent de Paul) feels like the city's trying to do them in," said Frank Murphy, president of Catholic Charities, which runs the Pinellas Hope homeless shelter.

"They're feeling pretty picked on, like all the sudden they're the source of all the problems. We need a lot more dialogue besides, 'Let's force the soup kitchen to close.' "

Marbut and city leaders say that without services like addiction counseling or job placement, the soup kitchen's meals for men, women and children will only serve to enable more living on the street. Officials have pressed to shift the meals to Safe Harbor, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's adults-only homeless shelter next to the county jail.

"We're trying to help these people be more than just homeless," Mayor George Cretekos said. "We're trying to get people to understand that we can feed and feed and feed, but that doesn't necessarily help them become independent."

But kitchen volunteers contend that shifting meals for the hungry to a shelter 8 miles away would devastate the 200 guests a day who are homeless or working poor.

Others added that the soup kitchen once had many of those services just a few steps away, at the Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project, which closed last year after its city funding froze.

The city and the soup kitchen have "agreed to disagree," Cretekos said, on the kitchen's inner workings, including when it serves its meals. The mayor thinks the 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. opening gives diners little incentive to seek helpful day-long programs. In a letter, he recommended limiting meals to between 7 and 8 a.m.

But Kris DiGiovanni, the kitchen's executive director, said volunteer cooks already start preparing food as early as 5:30 a.m. More than breakfast, the plates of meat, starches, fruits and vegetables are designed for those who may only get one meal a day.

Kitchen leaders say donations have continued to flow into the kitchen at 1345 Park St., including more than 250 pounds of canned and nonperishable food on Monday alone.

Donors include grocery stores, churches, fast-food restaurants and local homeowners, including a Palm Harbor couple who have donated regularly for more than 20 years.

Cyntthia Sterba, a mother of eight who lived at CHIP for a year before buying her own home, started an online petition demanding the city leave the soup kitchen alone, calling the kitchen a life-saving influence for her and some on the street.

The soup kitchen, she said, offered hot meals, a safe haven and a place to socialize — "something to make you feel normal."

"St. Vincent de Paul is a place of hope, not just a plate of food," Sterba said. "It was a place that gave me hope when I had none, none at all."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@tampabay.com. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.

Supporters rally behind Clearwater soup kitchen 05/01/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 8:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. North Korea says it's 'biggest victim' in U.S. student's death (w/video)

    World

    SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Friday called itself the "biggest victim" in the death of an American student who was detained for more than a year and died days after being released in a coma.

    Mourners line the street after the funeral of Otto Warmbier, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Wyoming, Ohio. Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student who was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years in prison with hard labor in North Korea, died this week, days after returning to the United States. [Associated Press]
  2. Kentucky recruit, former Tampa Catholic star Kevin Knox among top prospects for 2018 NBA Draft

    Preps

    Less than 24 hours after the NBA Draft, analysts have already begun looking ahead to 2018.

    Tampa Catholic star Kevin Knox finishes a layup during the McDonald's All-American game in March at the United Center in Chicago. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  3. Editorial: Pinellas cannot ignore homeless families

    Editorials

    They are living on our streets and in our parking lots, in cheap motels and spare bedrooms if they're lucky and in old cars if they are not. Their kids attend our schools, and parents often are afraid to seek help. Pinellas County has made progress in recent years in providing temporary shelter for the homeless, but …

    
Ariana Turner, 22, and her daughter, Namine Cowell, 2, are living at St. Petersburg Free Clinic Family Residence after falling on hard times. Pinellas County has made progress in recent years in providing temporary shelter for the homeless, but homeless families with kids are virtually shut out. It's a crisis that requires public and private leadership to find an answer that is both compassionate and cost-effective.
  4. Report: USF faculty complained of a hostile, sexist, boorish boss

    College

    TAMPA — A certain University of South Florida academic may be an unpopular and insensitive bully, but he did not break USF rules, a lengthy legal review has concluded.

    Herb Maschner was removed last fall as the head of a technology center at the University of South Florida after the school learned his previous employer found he engaged in inappropriate, on-campus sexual behavior. A new report looks at Maschner's tenure at USF. [Idaho State University]
  5. Oh, deer! Two bucks seen on video duking it out in Tennessee

    Wildlife

    Deer generally are seen as calm and serene creatures, but that was not the case in this video posted Wednesday on the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency's Facebook page.

    A video, shot by Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency wildlife officers Amy and Bubba Spencer on one of their trail cameras, shows two bucks on their hind legs and flailing in an open field. [Facebook]