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Ministry counts on excess of spirit

The numbers are daunting: 650,000 pounds of food, 55,000 toys, 8,600 turkeys and $3.08-million in cash.

That's what Metropolitan Ministries needs this holiday season to help 7,800 families with 9,100 children in the Tampa Bay area.

With the recent downturn in the economy and increase in unemployment, demand could easily be 12 percent to 15 percent higher than projected, ministry president Morris Hintzman said.

The ministry got the food and toy drive under way Monday with the opening of its new 15,000-square-foot Holiday Tent. Despite the bleak economic projections, Hintzman expected a good year for donations.

The initial surge was promising, and Hintzman felt people were still eager to help out their community in light of the attacks that began Sept. 11.

"The recent tragedies have brought people together," he said. "This is a good way to help out."

Ideally, Hintzman said, people who want to help will expand their efforts. He encouraged potential donors to organize smaller food drives in their neighborhoods, companies and churches and then deliver the goods to the ministry's tent.

"We will accept and appreciate any size donation," Hintzman said. "But the idea is to turn three or four cans of food, into three or four hundred cans."

Volunteer Syndi Williamson remained optimistic that the lofty goals could be met. A teacher at Blake High School, Williamson brought about 30 students from the school's Anchor Club on Monday to help sort donations in the Mrs. Claus Pantry and move boxes to the Elf Assembly Line.

While students in the service club received credit for the volunteer hours, they also gain a better understanding of a segment of the community that they may not have known much about, Williamson said.

"I think some will be disappointed to leave when the day is over," said Williamson, who has volunteered for four years at the food drive. "I think it shows how much people are still willing to help even when things aren't so good."

Marianne McDaniel, one of about 3,000 who will volunteer over the next few weeks, helped out for one day last year. This year, she plans on spending six days.

"Everyone's hunting for a way to connect to their community," said McDaniel, who moved to Tampa last year when her husband, Randall McDaniel, joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line. "Whether they volunteer or donate some food, this helps people fulfill that need."

Food and toys can be dropped off at the tent at 2002 N Florida Ave., a half mile north of downtown Tampa. The tent is open for donations every day until Nov. 21 and reopens for the Christmas drive on Dec. 10. The ministry also accepts monetary donations online at www.metromin.org.

Families in need must register in advance. They can begin picking up food boxes on Sunday. Each food box contains a turkey, stuffing, potatoes, rice, desserts, bread and many canned goods.

The ministry is also hosting a number of events during the next several weeks to help raise money and awareness about feeding the hungry. The first of these is a dinner tonight at which Unilever/Best Foods and Albertson's will feed 400 homeless people who live at the ministry.

_ Contact Graham Brink at (813) 226-3365 or brinksptimes.com.

How to help

People in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties can call a local hotline to find a place nearby to receive help. The number connects callers to social service agencies. It is also for people with time, materials or money on their hands looking for a place to donate.

Pinellas and Hillsborough:

Dial 211.

Pasco: Call (727) 869-6677 or 1-800-848-5542.

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