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Hooper: Feeding Tampa Bay, Trinity Cafe merger makes both stronger

Times (2017) Trinity Cafe is teaming up with Feeding Tampa Bay to offer more services.
Published Nov. 8, 2018

Thank you for your service.

It's a phrase that will reverberate through the weekend as we salute veterans and those currently serving in the military.

The words work, but a bigger thanks can come from lending support to Feeding Tampa Bay or Trinity Cafe, both nonprofits that help feed the homeless and food insecure populations that — and this may surprise some — includes a healthy share of veterans, service members and their families.

But which group do you choose? Who deserves your dollars? Trinity Cafe, which delivers a daily meal to guests at two locations in Hillsborough County? Or Feeding Tampa Bay, which strives to deliver access to healthy food in a 10-county region?

It's a question USAA, an ardent supporter of military families and veterans, has had to address in the past.

"My bucket of philanthropic funds is finite as anybody else's would be," said USAA regional vice president Yvette Segura. "Everyone has that same challenge."

Well, ask no more. Trinity Cafe has moved under the umbrella of Feeding Tampa Bay, providing a solution that will better meet that need and strengthen our community.

The organizations say the collaboration will result in a collection of Trinity locations throughout Tampa Bay that not only provide a daily meal, but bring added services to those tables because of Feeding Tampa Bay programs that already exist.

"Right now, you could come to one of our locations, get a healthy nutritious meal with dignity, and then you might be able to access a mobile pantry on a biweekly, monthly basis and get food to take home," Trinity Cafe executive director Mandy Cloninger said.

The merger makes perfect sense. Feeding Tampa Bay has long provided Trinity with much of the food it needs to serve a combined 500 meals a day at its two cafes, the original on N Nebraska Avenue and the second on E Busch Boulevard. And Feeding Tampa Bay executive director Thomas Mantz has long been close friends with Trinity Cafe founder Jeff Darrey.

Now donors can streamline their time, talent and treasure into a singular, like-minded effort that will be stronger together.

"One of the things I would tell you is, in the nonprofit world we need consolidation," Mantz said. "Do you know how many donors I got an email from that said this is fabulous news because I'm tired of getting hit by everybody?"

It's more than strength from unity, however. Both Cloninger and Mantz see the partnership boosting existing services, such as helping clients apply for assistance, and helping them rise above their needs by gaining greater self-sufficiency. Partnering with Trinity and utilizing its stainless steel kitchen will boost Feeding Tampa Bay's existing culinary training program.

The mantra they've embraced: Food for today, food for tomorrow, food for a lifetime.

And that's a mantra we all should embrace because, even with all the talk of a great economy, the need remains prevalent. It's not just the homeless and unemployed, it's the working poor who don't make enough to meet all of life's demands. And it's those who serve our nation.

"We know that for our military, and our veterans, sometimes if they're stretching the dollar and trying to make ends meet, there are some needs that are not met," Segura said. "They've done a lot for us and our country, that's our membership at USAA and if we can help them from a philanthropic standpoint then we want to do that."

Our veterans deserve support and salutes. But we all can offer more than kind words.

That's all I'm saying.

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