1. News
  2. /
  3. Health

Coronavirus: How to help local businesses, families struggling right now

From blood donations to food banks, here’s how we can help each other right now.

Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at Sign up for our DayStarter newsletter to receive updates weekday mornings. If this coverage is important to you, consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tampa Bay Times at

• • •

The extended shutdown of schools, festivals and large gatherings is taking its toll, so we have gathered up some ideas for how we can help each other.

Donate Medical Supplies

Hillsborough County is putting out an urgent plea for donations of medical supplies that can be used to help fight the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. Medical schools, dental clinics, elective surgery centers, private vendors, residents, and others are asked to donate ONLY the following items:

  • Impervious gowns
  • Face shields
  • Surgical masks
  • N95 masks
  • Tyvek suits
  • Exam gloves

The equipment must be medical grade personal protection equipment (PPE) and new in the box or unused. All sizes are needed. The supply of donated equipment will be used locally in hospitals, nursing centers, assisted living facilities, or other areas of need. Donations can be dropped off at the former Sears Automotive shop at 250 Westshore Plaza in Tampa Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. starting March 25, and concluding on April 3. For more information, call (813) 641-6985.

Support Food Banks

The 28th annual Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger is May 9. Set out bagged non-perishable food items near your mailbox at 9 a.m. Carriers will do their best to pick up donations that day. If yours is missed, place your donation out by your mailbox the following Monday. All donations benefit food banks in your area to feed the needy.

To Honor social distancing regulations, Feeding Tampa Bay has turned their Mobil Pantry free grocery program into a drive-thru model to eliminate crowds. To help them, you can simply donate money to this and other local food banks. Or donate your time by creating food baskets or assisting in the warehouse.. For information, call (813) 254-1190.

Smaller organizations like Daystar Life Center in St. Petersburg have seen their pantry supplies dwindle rapidly. They are in need of donations of food, clothing, household goods and personal care items to help the working poor avoid homelessness. The center, at 1055 28th St. S in St. Petersburg, can also use volunteers and donations of money to restock the supplies.

The following items are most needed:

  • soup
  • pasta and sauce
  • peanut butter and jelly
  • beans of any kind
  • cans of tuna and other meat
  • dry cereal
  • canned vegetables
  • canned fruit
  • macaroni and cheese

Also, the Prep of South Tampa, a nonprofit community center, is accepting non-perishable food donations. The Prep’s executive team works closely with Hillsborough County school officials, as well as Feeding Tampa Bay, to make sure donations go to families and children in need. Monetary donations can be made directly on The Prep’s website at Drop off hours are 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.- noon Saturday at 4002 S Coolidge Ave., Tampa.

Related: 5 ways Tampa Bay restaurants are responding to the coronavirus

Volunteer for Meals on Wheels

Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger needs volunteers for the new Meals on Wheels 4 Kids program. The program was launched to help provide St. Petersburg area children a solid meal during the COVID-19 school closures. Boxed lunches will be delivered to their home every Monday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Volunteers pick up meals and a route sheet with directions from Daystar Life Center, 1055 28th St. S, St. Petersburg.

Avoid Buying WIC Items

People on some family welfare programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) can only use their electronic transfer cards to buy WIC-approved items at stores. If the store is sold out of those items, those people would have to pay out of pocket. If possible, advocates ask that those who don’t receive government assistance choose non-WIC items, to help those who do. While shopping, you’ll usually see a bright red WIC label on the price tag of an item.

Feeding Tampa Bay has turned its traveling community food pantries food trucks into a drive-thru service. Volunteers are needed.
Feeding Tampa Bay has turned its traveling community food pantries food trucks into a drive-thru service. Volunteers are needed. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

Support the Arts

Tampa Bay’s many local arts organizations are taking a huge hit with the cancellation of their shows, plays and concerts. Consider donating to your favorite museums or arts organizations. Support the local band that had to cancel a show by buying their music online.

Also, local bands are providing concerts live on Facebook. Visit the page of a group or performer you might follow and listen in on their live stream. Then, make a small donation to their virtual tip jar. Keep in mind you’re not buying drinks, so tip a little more generous than if you were listening to them in a bar.

Anthony Festa and Emily Bautista in the national touring production of "Miss Saigon," among the many shows that have been canceled or postponed at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Anthony Festa and Emily Bautista in the national touring production of "Miss Saigon," among the many shows that have been canceled or postponed at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. [ MATTHEW MURPHY | Courtesy of the Straz Center ]

Donate Blood

The FDA reports, every two seconds a patient needs a blood transfusion. Blood donations across the country have dropped because the threat of coronovirus has forced the closure of schools and businesses, common donor bus locations. OneBlood is putting out a call for donors to visit and click on “donate now” to find a donation center or OneBlood bus near you. OneBlood communications assures everything a donor touches is disinfected between each use and social distancing is practiced.

Buy Local

Ester Venouziou, the president of Local Shops1, which provides advocacy, support and education to local independent businesses throughout the region, said small businesses are taking an especially big hit these days.

“Local makers and artists are losing sales, since markets and festivals are canceled pretty much everywhere, and brick-and-mortar shops and restaurants are most affected by the ‘social distancing’ guidelines, with fewer people out shopping or dining,” she said. "Service businesses are feeling it, too, with people putting off hair appointments and massages, for example.”

She suggests these ways to support local businesses:

  • Shop online from local shops. Many places have online shops, and those who don’t will likely accept an order over the phone.
  • The Saturday Morning Market is currently open for limited drive-through service. You can place your order at for Saturday Pickup.
  • Buy gift cards from restaurants, shops and service providers that you can use later. Local businesses need immediate cash flow to get through the next several weeks, or however long it takes until life is back to normal.
  • Share links to your favorite businesses on your social media pages, and post photos of your local purchases and favorite take-out dishes from local restaurants.
  • When things go back to normal, tip your service providers a little extra, to help make up for lost income.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

EVENT CANCELLATIONS: Get the latest updates on events planned in the Tampa Bay area in the coming weeks.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Florida Department of Health

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.