John is a military veteran and a retired policeman. He had a terrible motorcycle accident, and the doctors told his wife he wouldn't make it. But over the course of a year in the hospital, John learned to walk and talk again.
Soon after he was released, his wife died suddenly. John was devastated; he'd lost the love of his life and his support system. He got behind on bills, and his electricity was disconnected.
We first met John the day Trinity Cafe served its one millionth meal.
For nearly 15 years, Trinity Cafe has restored dignity to our homeless and hungry guests while serving more than 1.1 million nutritious meals. The most important aspect of our mission is nurturing the spirits of our guests.
They hunger for a sense of community, for conversation, for someone to acknowledge them. We build intentional community around a dining room table. We get to know our guests by name. A volunteer host is seated at each table offering conversation, a listening ear and a connection to community. We help restore dignity to lives by the way we serve.
We cheered when Will announced to a full dining room that he had landed a job. Guests, volunteers and staff applauded and encouraged him. He looked forward to having an alarm clock wake him in the morning, having a place to work and purpose again in his life. This is one of many successes we experienced.
We connect our guests with a vast array of supportive services that offer a tangible benefit including housing, health care, employment services, counseling and case management.
The waiting lists are long, and resources are limited. There are only 1,000 beds for the homeless, and more than 1,800 people are homeless in our community. With no other housing options, these guests rely on Trinity Cafe for their daily sustenance.
Many of our guests also live near or in the same neighborhoods where we are located. They struggle with poverty, unemployment, and some work part-time or are on disability. Skipping meals to stretch food is commonplace.
There are an estimated 200,000 food insecure households in Hillsborough County, and one in four are children. We know Sarah by name; she brings her own Ziploc container, eats half a meal and takes the remainder home so her son will have dinner.
Approximately 400 men, women and children rely on us daily for a meal at two locations, yet their voices are not always the loudest in the room. Our struggling neighbors deserve our compassion, generosity and efforts to help them find solutions that restore dignity and promote self-sufficiency.
We are grateful every time we see a $5 online donation made by Wayne Douglas, a former guest. He is now employed and volunteers at Trinity Cafe. He said, "My small donation is just my way of thanking Trinity Cafe for all you did for me when I was in need."
We understand the concerns that have been raised in the neighborhood about the presence of the homeless and hungry here and are committed to being a good neighbor. We can transform our community by working together toward solutions that build relationships and ensure the weakest members of our society are treated with dignity, acceptance, compassion, love and respect.
John first came to Trinity Cafe more than a year ago. We connected him with assistance to get his electricity turned on. The lifelong medical issues he deals with are being addressed at the VA.
"I have a new chance in life and I'm working to stay on my feet," John said. "I really appreciate the encouragement, food and kindness at Trinity Cafe."
Mandy Cloninger is executive director of the Trinity Cafe in Tampa.