TAMPA — In her 15 years with Metropolitan Ministries, Justine Burke said she has never seen so many empty shelves.
“It is a combination of many factors,” said Burke, the vice president of marketing at the local nonprofit.
Call it the result of inflation, rising gas prices or even the housing market. Difficulties of the cost of living are not only reflected in people’s pocketbooks but also in donations to food banks like Metropolitan Ministries on Florida Avenue.
The charity that was founded in the 1970s to provide relief and assistance to the needy is asking for help and non-perishable food.
“Any donations and efforts are welcome,” Burke said. “There are so many families with urgent needs.”
Metropolitan Ministries helps thousands of families in Tampa Bay, including the Hispanic community.
About 33% of the families that Metropolitan Ministries supports every year are Latino, and 15% don’t speak English. Throughout the past year, the Tampa-based nonprofit provided 95,000 families with food, clothing, housing and utility assistance. The charity has also given out 3,000 hot meals per day and 1,500 emergency food boxes a week since the pandemic started.
But the increased need has left the food supply stretched without the normal two- or three-month surplus it relies on to get through the donation-lean summer months.
Burke said bulk food orders were placed two months ago, and they have not yet arrived. Most of their vendors are pointing to supply chain issues as the reason.
“The current cost of living and the fact that summer is typically the lowest season for food drives has also created a perfect storm,” said Burke.
Metropolitan Ministries received 25% less donations compared to a year ago while the demand has only gone up.
Recent inflation is also making it difficult for many to afford basic necessities, according to a survey of 600 Floridians conducted by University of South Florida. The study showed that more than three-quarters (77%) said inflation has affected their grocery spending.
James Dunbar, associate vice president of outreach and prevention services at Metropolitan Ministries, said the organization has faith. Between community donations and food purchases, the setback will be resolved, according to Dunbar.
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“Until then, we are preparing for the situation to get worse before it gets better,” he said.
Kathy Shaffer, 62, hopes that people can make an effort to ease the pain of others.
“I suffered a lot, but I am here, giving cereal and cans to those in need because I was one of them,” she said.
Inside the Metropolitan Ministries warehouse, in downtown Tampa, a group of masked volunteers was ready to fill boxes. Normally, they should be busy.
“Now it’s a little bit slow”, said Luiz Pacheco, 60, who was born in Brazil. He hopes the crisis will be temporary. For him, even a bag of rice can help.
“Nothing is too little,” Pacheco said.
Want to help?
DONATION DROP-OFF LOCATIONS
Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.: 2101 N. Florida Ave., Tampa (Enter from E. Frances Ave.)
Weekdays 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.: 3214 US-19, Holiday; 13703 17th St., Dade City
To donate: Visit Metropolitan Ministries at www.metromin.org. Check donations can be mailed to Metropolitan Ministries, 2002 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, FL 33602. Call 813-209-1218 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for questions.
For food resources, visit metromin.org/get-help or call 813-209-1000.