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'Big ideas' yield big grants from Community Foundation

TAMPA

The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay hopes to make a major impact on locals in need of food, housing and health with its Big Idea Grant.

After sifting through more than two dozen collaborative proposals, foundation officials eventually tripled the original monetary commitment and awarded three different nonprofit organizations $50,000 each.

"We couldn't be more pleased with the collaboration and creative thinking that went into these proposals," said Marlene Spalten, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay president and CEO. "We wanted to offer nonprofits an incentive to think in new ways and to work together because we were sure there were creative solutions to age-old issues that just needed a catalyst. The nonprofits exceeded our expectations.

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Feeding America Tampa Bay and Goodwill earned one of the winning grants for a collaborative effort that will deliver fresh produce and goods to "food deserts," a census tract where more than 20 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty level and more than one-third lives at least a mile from the nearest grocery store in urban areas and 10 miles in rural areas.

Feeding America executive director Thomas Mantz said using a mobile distribution truck to deliver the food will help the agency make better use of its food, 80 percent of which is perishable.

"The nature of food relief and the needs of the communities have really continued to change and we need to adapt with it," Mantz said. "The greatest challenge facing the people that we serve are that they have jobs, they have homes, they have other commitments. They're unable to get to the place where there is food relief, so we're going to bring food relief to them."

With consulting from the Tampa Bay Food Truck Association and Goodwill training employees to manage the truck, Mantz expects labor costs will remain low.

"Aside from all the rhetoric, it's a neat partnership and a really neat way for us to kind of connect and say, 'Here is a chance for you to develop these skills that become transferable to outside of what we're doing,' " Mantz said. "At the same time we end up with very low labor costs because we're able to use folks who are learning a new skill set, so it's a pretty positive thing."

With its grant from the Community Foundation, Feeding America Tampa Bay will be able to put the effectiveness of the mobile distribution truck to the test.

"We ultimately think that this is a scalable model, meaning that as you look around, there will always be a need for agencies and brick and mortar, but we have to adapt to what is going on in the community and we think that this is a really good way for us to develop a longer term model," Mantz said.

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MORE Health, another grant winner, also has a plan that will aid residents who don't have easy access to healthy produce.

Through a partnership with Tampa Bay Harvest, the nonprofit will help Sulphur Springs residents create community gardens. Two traditional dirt gardens will be planted at the Boys and Girls Clubs in the community and one will be planted near Layla's House.

But one special garden will be the focus of the project.

"One of the gardens is a very special one," MORE Health executive director Karen Bukenheimer said. "It's a tilapia aquapod garden, where the plants will be used to feed the fish, and the fish will be able to be eaten, and we'll raise baby fish to continue the cycle."

By providing community members with the knowledge and skills to maintain all four gardens, Bukenheimer believes costs will be low and the impact will benefit and bring together the entire community.

"It's super, super exciting, and we'll be providing evening classes for the entire family about nutrition, and we're going to exercise together," Bukenheimer said. "One of the sidebars for this whole initiative is that we really feel that working together in a garden can bring a lot of people together to form bonds within the community."

• • •

Community Foundation awarded its third Big Idea Grant to Directions for Living, Homeless Emergency Project and Catholic Charities. The three groups will partner to provide clinical mental health services for homeless shelters in St. Petersburg.

Between the organizations, approximately 2,000 people are being served and Directions for Living chief operating officer Karen Yatchum believes many, if not all of them, could use counseling.

"They may have a mental health diagnosis or they may have a substance abuse diagnosis," Yatchum said. "But even just being homeless in itself you could definitely use a clinician to talk to and to help you deal with what you're currently facing."

With the funds, Directions for Living plans to hire a licensed clinical social worker to do intakes, assessments and diagnosing; facilitate group therapy; and provide substance abuse services and one-on-one therapy if needed.

"Our hope is that this is just one piece of the puzzle," Yatchum said. "Our goal would be that we could deliver services in any of the centers in the Pinellas, Pasco and Tampa Bay areas."

Contact Kelsey Sunderland at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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