While the Labor Department announced Friday that the pace of layoffs slowed a bit in April, the nation's unemployment rate still rose to 8.9 percent, the highest in more than 25 years. So even though there's a faint hope that the economic recession may be easing a bit, there are still plenty of families in need. That is particularly true in the Tampa Bay area, where the unemployment rate exceeds 10 percent.
For example, people who want fresh bread and vegetables from the food bank at the Safety Harbor Neighborhood Family Center have to make sure they arrive at the beginning of the distribution. Otherwise those staples are gone. What were once adequate supplies are no longer, since the organization is now serving twice its usual number.
This is what a deep recession looks like. People who never thought they would need help arrive at food banks with tears in their eyes, says Janet Hooper, the center's executive director. They are humiliated by their reduced circumstances.
"I wish I had a job bank with jobs to give away," Hooper says.
All of this financial pain and economic dislocation has resulted in more Floridians seeking help from local food banks, medical clinics, rent and utilities subsidy programs and homeless centers. "We are seeing more people looking for food and more people who lost their jobs and their health insurance," says St. Petersburg Free Clinic executive director Jane Egbert.
When more than 1,300 children in Pinellas County schools are reporting that they are homeless, up from 867 last year, the gravity of the current crisis comes into focus.
What to do? One way to get involved is through charitable giving targeted to those in need. For those in Tampa Bay who still have a paycheck, now is not the time to cut back on contributions to those less fortunate. There are dozens of local charitable organizations providing food pantries, rent and mortgage assistance, temporary shelter, medical clinics and utilities subsidies. And they could use your help.
To find well-established places to donate in Pinellas, Hernando and Citrus counties, go to www.211tampabay.org, then look under "guides" to choose a county and see a list of charities. The list is compiled by Tampa Bay Cares, which also operates the 211 service in those three counties.
No similarly extensive lists appear to exist for Hillsborough and Pasco counties. For a partial list of agencies in those counties whose work is particularly geared toward helping the newly needy, visit tampabay.com/opinion.
Another option for those with the means: Give to your local United Way or Salvation Army, which support a range of services in local communities.
Every dollar helps. The pace of job losses may be slowing a bit nationally, but the ranks of the unemployed in Tampa Bay and elsewhere are still rising.
How you can help
For a list of local charities and links to some of their Web pages, click here.