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Tampa teen brings fine dining to area homeless population

Gracie Goltermann, 17, talking with guests at Trinity Cafe on Wednesday, is working on her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouts. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times] 
Published Sep. 10, 2015

TAMPA

From the back of the line outside Trinity Cafe, more than 20 people stood between Lakeesha Stallworth and the best chance she would have in a long time for fine dining.

The doors had opened an hour earlier, and space was limited, so the homeless woman, 38, knew her chances for a meal weren't guaranteed.

Finally, the sea of people in front of her started to recede. She made it in.

Trinity Cafe serves food to the homeless every day. But Wednesday was different.

Inside, 17-year-old Gracie Goltermann shuffled between serving stations and tables, balancing bread baskets and salad trays, entrees and water pitchers — all while working alongside tuxedoed servers and professional chefs.

Goltermann is a Girl Scout inching toward the Gold Award, regarded as the highest achievement in the organization. In her efforts to earn the honor, she organized Feed the Need Tampa Bay — a campaign geared toward bringing fine dining to Trinity Cafe.

On Wednesday, the Columbia Restaurant became the first restaurant to participate. It brought a three-course meal of salad, white rice, black beans, plantains, boliche — and even flamenco dancers.

Once the doors opened, people flooded in. The tables never emptied.

"It's nutritious, it's healthy, it's clean," Stallworth said, "and the people are nice to you."

Volunteers ushered in new arrivals while saying farewell to the departures.

"Have a great day, ma'am," the doorman said.

"Thank you so much," the woman said, walking toward the door. "I've already had it."

When Goltermann was choosing a service project, she said deciding what issue to tackle was an obvious choice: food insecurity, or lack of consistent access to food.

Goltermann said participating restaurants will grant the staff at Trinity Cafe relief while feeding hundreds in the process — and feeding them in style. Goltermann is working to secure more participants. The Columbia will return three more times while Taco Bus and Ulele have already been lined up.

"I'm really hoping (this project) will be sustainable," she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 13.8 percent of Florida families suffered from food insecurity in 2014, compared with the national average of 14 percent. That's about 1.1 million people in the state.

In Hillsborough County, that rate was 16 percent in 2013, according to Feeding America, a national nonprofit. That meant 197,460 people suffered from food insecurity.

"It's way harder than I thought it was ever going to be," Goltermann said as she sat beside those she helped feed, "but 100 percent worth it."

Columbia owner Richard Gonzmart walked from table to table as people came and went. He beamed as his food was served, especially his grandmother's 110-year-old flan recipe.

"This is my favorite meal at the Columbia," he told one table, "so I'm really excited to share it with you all."

Contact Michael Majchrowicz at (813) 226-3374 or mmajchrowicz@tampabay.com. Follow @mjmajchrowicz.

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