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On Valentine's Day, groups have heart for homeless

On a day linked to love and caring, the Downtown Tampa Rotary and Salvation Army are going to share some Valentine's Day spirit with Tampa's homeless.

The two groups will serve a Valentine's Day dinner of baked ham and all the fixings to 600 homeless people from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday at the Salvation Army headquarters, 1603 N Florida Ave.

Organizers hope the dinner will become an annual event and spur other organizations to sponsor holiday meals for the homeless.

"We're hoping to remind the community that the homeless problem doesn't go away after Christmas," said Capt. Steve Hedgren, area commander for Tampa's Salvation Army. "There are a lot of people out on the street every night that need a hot meal."

Ordy Hendry, publicity chairman for the event, said the idea came from the newest members of the Rotary club.

"They wanted to do something for the homeless," Hendry said. "Since Valentine's Day symbolizes love it seemed like the perfect time."

Most of the hams, vegetables and dessert were donated by area grocery stores and bakeries. Additional money for the dinner came from members collecting donations, or donating money themselves.

The groups raised roughly $2,000 for the dinner.

"We've encouraged people to give money for either a single dinner or for a family," Hendry said. "We asked people to donate what they thought it would cost a family of five to go out to dinner."

Donations for a single dinner are $6.

"Homeless people probably eat better at Thanksgiving and Christmas time than any other people," Hedgren said.

"But after Christmas we forget about these people. We're hoping this event will change that."