How to help others in Tampa Bay during coronavirus lockdown

Give blood, make face masks, support food banks and more ways to assist others while we keep our distance.
Volunteers at Metropolitan Ministries campus in Tampa clean carts used to give food boxes to the needy.
Volunteers at Metropolitan Ministries campus in Tampa clean carts used to give food boxes to the needy. [ CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL | Times ]
Published April 1, 2020|Updated April 9, 2020

From making masks to giving blood and shopping locally online, there are ways to help others in the Tampa Bay area while keeping your distance. Here’s how.

Support the helpers

The Salvation Army is running its regular food pantry operations and weekly drive-through food distributions during the month of April in Clearwater. It is also assisting people with rent, mortgage, utility assistance, family shelters and emergency shelters. To donate to the Salvation Army’s efforts, visit The organization could also use donations of nonperishable food items. The best way for drop off is to go to to find the nearest Salvation Army unit. There is information about volunteer opportunities that may be available.

Tina Buckner places pasta into a box in the back of her truck after picking up food at the Feeding Tampa Bay distribution center.
Tina Buckner places pasta into a box in the back of her truck after picking up food at the Feeding Tampa Bay distribution center. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Community Foundation of Tampa Bay: The organization has compiled a list of the needs submitted by nonprofits in the area at Or you can give to the Tampa Bay Rapid Response Fund , which is going to meet the most urgent needs on that list.

Hillsborough County has put out an urgent plea for donations of medical supplies that can be used to help fight the spread of COVID-19. 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. The equipment must be medical grade personal protection equipment and new in the box or unused. For information, call (813) 641-6985.The following items are needed:

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

Feeding Tampa Bay has turned their Mobile 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 and

Related: Feeding Tampa Bay is delivering 8,000 meals to senior communities.

Daystar Life Center in St. Petersburg has seen its 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, and can also use volunteers and donations of money at to restock the supplies. The following items are most needed:

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  • 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

The Prep of South Tampa, a nonprofit community center, is accepting non-perishable food donations. They are sending the food to Feeding Tampa Bay for families 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.

[5 ways Tampa Bay restaurants are responding to the coronavirus]Edit Info

Meals on Wheels and the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger needs volunteers for the new Meals on Wheels 4 Kids, to help provide children a solid meal during school closures, and also its regular Meals on Wheels service. The program is also in need of monetary donations to restock food supplies at

Metropolitan Ministries is providing essential services at 25 meal locations, handing out food boxes and hygiene kits via drive-up service and financial assistance for families. The most-needed food: cereal, canned vegetables, canned fruit, canned meats, beans and peanut butter. Other items needed: diapers, baby formula, baby food, temporal thermometers, infrared forehead thermometer and hygiene items. Donation drive-through is open 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday at 2101 N Florida Ave., Tampa. Call (813) 209-1034 for information on making a bulk or large donation. Volunteers are needed to prepare “Boxes of Hope” for people that need food assistance. Sign up at to volunteer. Their Tampa campus needs volunteers for outreach services and janitorial teams as well. All volunteers must preregister. The organization this week started at $50,000 Facebook fundraiser for its COVID-19 efforts that it hopes gets shared widely. There is currently a triple match program in place thanks to three donors (the Triad Foundation, Analgesic Healthcare and an anonymous donor).

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.

There is an urgent need for blood donations, the Red Cross has said.
There is an urgent need for blood donations, the Red Cross has said. [ AP (2011) ]

Give blood

The FDA reports that every two seconds, a patient needs a blood transfusion. 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.

Related: Florida blood banks are collecting plasma to help fight coronavirus

“This will be impacting our operations for months to come,” said Susan Forbes, a senior vice president of OneBlood, a donation center across Florida. “This is an unprecedented situation that’s happening to the blood supply.”

Make some masks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its guidelines to add cloth masks as protective, although they would ideally be used in combination with a paper disposable mask or N95 mask for medical staff. But disposable mask supply is not keeping up to demand. Here are some ways to help.

Related: Time on your hands? Here's how to make a homemade face mask
  • Joann Fabrics is encouraging the effort to make masks by giving the materials to make five masks for free, to be returned for donation to medical facilities. A statement on their website said that this is a “grassroots” effort and they would connect with hospitals near their stores.
  • A Facebook group called The Mask Project Tampa Bay has been created. It has over 1,000 members and a mission to create masks to donate to healthcare workers. The group also collects donations of materials and supplies, including hand sanitizer, wipes and gloves to promote hygiene and encourages social distancing.
Related: How to make your own no-sew face mask in minutes
  • Nearly half a million people have downloaded the instructions to participate in the Million Mask Challenge, a global sew-a-thon to support healthcare workers. You can find others in the Million Mask Challenge Facebook group. Or get more information at the Get Us PPE website
Jonathan Barnes, 41, poses in the garage of his Clearwater home with a 3D Printer (a Crealty CR10) as it prints face shields.
Jonathan Barnes, 41, poses in the garage of his Clearwater home with a 3D Printer (a Crealty CR10) as it prints face shields. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
  • A St. Petersburg College professor Jonathan Barnes has used his 3D printer to make face shields he calls “giant sneeze guards” that he has delivered to hospitals in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Ocala and Sarasota. Once his wife shared an image of the shield online, people on social media started pitching in, using their own printers. He now has five people helping him, some perfect strangers. If you have a 3D printer and want to join the effort or donate supplies, email him at
Related: The helpers: SPC professor creates face shields
  • MRG 3D - Tampa Emergency 3D Printing is a Facebook group that is putting its 3D printing skills to good use. They have 14 printers running in Seminole Heights and a lot of volunteer help. Seek them out on Facebook.

Send a treat to health care workers

With hospital and nursing home workers putting in long, stressful days, a treat for the staff is a nice way to let the community show its appreciation. Among some recent ideas:

  • A local fundraiser is pairing up one local restaurant and one hospital or healthcare provider per day to provide daily meals for healthcare workers. They delivered more than 1,000 meals last weekend. Go to to donate and join the effort. That is also where healthcare organizations can sign up to receive donations for the staff.
  • For $70, the dessert bar Swah-Rey in downtown St. Petersburg will deliver boxes of 36 individually decorated mini cupcakes. The boxes will include six each of Chocolate Salted Caramel, Red Velvet, Carrot Cake, Blackout (Double Chocolate), Cinnamon Bun and Funfetti minis. The store this week started accepting orders on the website at
Lynn Roberts, who owns Popical Popcorn in Clearwater, is giving away bags of popcorn to a Pinellas County nursing home staff.
Lynn Roberts, who owns Popical Popcorn in Clearwater, is giving away bags of popcorn to a Pinellas County nursing home staff. [ Courtesy of Popical Popcorn ]
  • Popical, the gourmet popcorn store at 2551 Drew St. in Clearwater, on Wednesday delivered bags of colorful popcorn and caramel corn for the staff and nurses at a nearby nursing home.
Related: Clearwater's Popical popcorn donates signature snack to nursing home
  • Order pizza or coffee and doughnuts and have it delivered to your nearest hospital as a staff treat. It’s a good way to support local businesses, too.
Related: Search our list of local restaurants offering takeout or delivery
  • Consider having the kids make cards or draw pictures for people in nursing homes who can’t have visitors right now. It will brighten their day to get some cheerful letters in the mail from kids.

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.

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.

Related: This Tampa Bay drag queen has started hosted virtual shows

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.

Related: Hosting a virtual event? You can now enter it into our calendars

Buy Local

St. Petersburg’s popular Saturday Morning Market weekly still there. But now, cars drive through it, passing by a few small tents where staff from local farms have set up a temporary distribution center during the coronavirus pandemic. The market’s new model launched with 15 vendors, including six local farms, and all of the ordering is done online. Guests can order directly from their farm of choice, linked on the main market’s website, and pick up their orders Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon in the Al Lang Stadium parking lot. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or EBT/ SNAP cards, are accepted by both the farmers and the online vendors, and the market has also partnered with the Daystar Life Center for a separate Thursday online market.

Related: As grocery store shelves empty Tama Bay farmers and markets find new customers online

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.”

Related: Search our list of local restaurants offering takeout or delivery

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.

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