ST. PETERSBURG — Mountains of Gatorade and bottled water rise beneath the protest tent across from St. Petersburg City Hall.
Snack packs fill wagons. Each afternoon, brown bag lunches arrive. Each evening, trays of food show up. And on Facebook, an account run by the St. Petersburg protesters has topped $3,400.
It’s all done by a loose network of volunteers and businesses who have committed to supporting the protesters, so they can continue to march in the name of racial justice and equality.
“Literally, the community, that’s what so beautiful,” said Tiffany “TT” Taylor, when asked who brings all the supplies. “They say it takes a village.”
Golden Dinosaurs Vegan Deli has been involved since the beginning, said Audrey Dingeman, who co-owns the Gulfport restaurant with her husband, Brian. She and friends from Nah Dogs Vegan Hot Dog Cart took 20 meals and water to the protests in Tampa the first Sunday, the day after demonstrations there turned violent. She said they were gassed while marching.
Since then, she or one of the restaurant’s employees has delivered food every day to protests on both sides of the bay, except on Wednesdays, when the restaurant is closed. The food comes in brown paper bags with the words “Free Vegan Food” written on them.
“When it came time to start helping the Black Lives Matter movement, we just did the first thing we know how to do, which is feed people,” Dingeman said.
Fresh Kitchen and Better Byrd have also donated. Protester Hailey Ostwalt said she called Ciccio Restaurant Group, which owns Fresh Kitchen, after she heard the company had given free meals to police officers. A restaurant group spokesman confirmed restaurant managers sometimes comp meals to officers.
“I threw a fit,” Ostwalt said.
She negotiated an arrangement by which Fresh Kitchen and Better Byrd supply two trays of catering and four cases of water for two weeks. That runs out Sunday .
Steve Lanza, president of Fresh Kitchen, said the restaurant group has always had a discount for first responders. He said the company agreed to feed the protesters because supporting the community is one of the restaurant group’s core values.
“And we felt this was a really important cause to support and we wanted to get behind it, and donating food was pretty easy for us, since we’re up and running,” he said.
Coffee shops have also joined in. Black Crow has allowed one group, the Tampa Bay Action Collective, to use space in its Old Northeast location for the packaging of protester survival bags.
The protesters have tried to file to become a nonprofit under the name St. Pete For Equality Inc. to make it easier to accept donations, but the application was rejected by the state because it was not filled out properly. Protest leaders said they’re working with a lawyer to resubmit the paperwork.
The group has already raised more than $3,400 through Facebook, which it uses to buy food and supplies.
Donations have also come from individuals. Ostwalt said that’s how she participated — donating rather than marching — in the days after she was arrested on an unlawful assembly charge on June 2 outside St. Petersburg police headquarters. Taylor said the mounds of water and drinks are so high that protesters have been handing out bottles to people they encounter on the street who are in need.
Protesters have said they want to march 382 days — one day longer than the 1955-56 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott after the arrest of Rosa Parks. Dingeman said Golden Dinosaurs will be there.
“As long as it takes,” she said. “We’ll be involved in some way or another probably forever.”
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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.
WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.
WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.
CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.
HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.