Giving back and helping your community is what it's all about. That's the motto Metropolitan Ministries president and CEO Morris Hintzman believes in. He's been involved with the organization for 30 years and was named its chief executive officer two years ago. Metropolitan Ministries assists the poor, homeless and low-income residents of Tampa Bay. It feeds, clothes and shelters people, but also offers them something more — hope. On Thursday, Hintzman oversaw Metropolitan Ministries' Breakfast of Business Champions, a gathering of more than 300 local business leaders. The event was designed to raise awareness for those less fortunate in the area and for those in attendance to bring donations to support the ministries' holiday assistance program. Among those in attendance were Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke and Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham. Hintzman spoke to Times staff writer Paul Driscoll about his time at Metropolitan Ministries, the organization's needs this holiday season and how local residents can pitch in.
How are donations going so far this holiday season?
The response from the Tampa community is always incredible, but the need continues to grow. We are currently short 100,000 pounds of food and more than $100,000 in monetary donations. This shortfall represents assistance for 2,000 of the 15,000 families we expect to help with food and toys at Christmas. As those blessed at this time of year think about families in Tampa Bay who are hurting, we hope their hearts are touched and they will give to help their neighbors.
Many people only think of charities and helping those less fortunate around the holidays. In what ways do you remind people that you need donations year-round to meet annual goals?
It is only by communicating the stories of local people that are homeless, hungry and in need that we can encourage giving in our community throughout the year. When a volunteer helps a hungry family shop for food or a supporter reads about the unthinkable poverty of an unemployed family, then our mission is fully communicated and people lend their support.
Is the number of people needing assistance this holiday season increasing?
As the effects of the recession and housing crash continue to be felt in the Tampa area, we expect to help almost 26,000 local families — a 10 percent increase. The stark reality can be seen in a family who applied for assistance for the very first time. I met the father and mother in the holiday tent. He lost his job due to a work injury and her hours were reduced at the call center where she worked. They had three hungry children at home, and were facing an eviction. We provided them with Thanksgiving meals and are helping them stay in their apartment.
Are you seeing more working families coming for help, in addition to the folks who are unemployed?
The primary focus of our holiday assistance program is on the unemployed and underemployed. With kids at home for holiday break and many businesses offering reduced hours to their employees, a lot of working families just need a helping hand to make it through Christmas. The size of this impact can be seen in the number of children we anticipate helping this year — almost 30,000 in the greater Tampa area.
Are there more or fewer people volunteering this year?
We can always count on the support of the Tampa community as we work to serve additional families. More than 10,000 local volunteers will give their time to Metropolitan Ministries in November and December, and many of these generous individuals are former recipients of our holiday assistance program. I was struck by the experience of a volunteer I met serving snacks in our holiday tent. As a single mother who was unemployed for two years, she was overwhelmed and began to cry as she recognized the familiar pain in the eyes of the families she was serving. This is the impact we can all make by giving a little bit of our time to those who are hurting.
What items are you most in need of?
While the most needed items for our holiday assistance program include frozen turkeys, gift cards, cereal, canned fruit, and toys for teens and infants — sometimes it is a hug, a smile, or a kind word that our clients need most. At this time of year, it's not about commodities; it's about the community coming together.
You've been with Metropolitan Ministries since 1982, the president since 1997 and CEO since 2010. Why is this organization and the work you accomplish so important to you?
This is my calling — to help families that are hurting and give them a chance at self-sufficiency. Regardless of what title I hold, my heart, passion and vision will always be a part of Metropolitan Ministries as it serves the most vulnerable individuals in our community.
How do you plan to meet the growing needs of the Tampa Bay community?
Tampa is now home to the country's highest rate of homelessness, so our board, staff, donors and volunteers have no choice but to respond to this local and national crisis. We are looking forward to the completion of our new housing facility, MiraclePlace, in July 2013 — allowing us to serve twice as many homeless families in the Tampa area. This challenge to serve will only be accomplished through the collaborative support of our community. Working together with the university and public school system, local and state government, the faith community, corporate leadership and individual support, we can overcome any challenge in the bay area.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.