TAMPA — The line of vehicles Friday snaked through the parking lot at Hillsborough Community College and backed up several miles to Dale Mabry Highway, just across from Raymond James Stadium. They arrived because their families were hungry, and Feeding Tampa Bay had set up mega food pantries on the campus and at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
But this wasn’t a typical distribution line. The vehicles opening their trunks and hatchbacks to be loaded with fruits, vegetables, meals and toilet paper were mostly newer model SUVs from Honda, Jeep, Toyota and Nissan.
Thomas Mantz, the CEO for Feeding Tampa Bay, pointed out the quality of cars in the lot to Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman.
“I said to her, 'These are probably people that volunteered with us two months ago and donated to us three months ago.’ And you see that over and over again. You know people in your world who walked into work one day and leadership said to them, 'I’m sorry, we can’t pay you.’
“I’ve been doing this a long time," Mantz continued. “I’ve never found anyone that wants to be in a food line. It’s humiliating. It’s not where you want to be. It’s not something you want to have happen, and we find that the people we serve are grateful; they care, they’re appreciative. They’re also scared. If you had kids and couldn’t provide for them, it would scare the heck out of you.”
The Glazer family that owns the Bucs wanted to help ease some of those fears and provide food for families. That’s why they made a personal donation to purchase five million meals for Feeding Tampa Bay, the largest contribution to the organization for coronavirus relief.
Last week, the Glazer family pledged $100,000 to the One Tampa: Relief Now, Rise Together Fund, which offers financial assistance to residents and business owners in Tampa. They also donated $100,000 to St. Petersburg’s Fighting Chance Fund, which focuses on small businesses in the service industry affected by the coronavirus.
All told, it represents a commitment of more than $750,000 by the Glazers.
“We are facing an unprecedented situation that has affected so many throughout the world and in our community," Bucs co-owner Darcie Glazer-Kassewitz said. “My family discussed different ways to help, but ultimately we all knew that food insecurity was a critical area that needed immediate assistance.
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“My family’s main priority was to find the most efficient way to provide this essential food to those that are struggling the most at this time. Feeding Tampa Bay is doing tremendous work ensuring that those in need of food assistance are getting it every day.”
According to Mantz, demand for meals in Tampa Bay has increased 400 percent during the pandemic.
After learning that Feeding Tampa Bay needed more vehicles to transport meals, the Glazers also agreed to re-purpose the Glazer Foundation Mobile Vision Clinic, a 40-foot recreational vehicle currently parked at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Feeding Tampa Bay has fed 2,600 kids each day and delivered thousands more meals to seniors while also partnering to operate drive-through locations.
“We knew that Feeding Tampa Bay was having a challenging time meeting the tremendous increase in the needs of our community," Glazer-Kassewitz said. “Our family wanted to provide the type of resources that would ensure their ability to keep meeting the needs of our community without disruption. We have the highest admiration and gratitude for the work they are doing throughout the Tampa Bay area."
With furloughs and layoffs becoming commonplace during the economic crisis that accompanied the pandemic, Mantz said families face the difficult choice of making payment on their home and/or car while falling short of funds for groceries.
“Food is fundamental to all of us, and we want to make sure it’s available," Mantz said. “You have to pay your rent bill. You have to pay your car payment and things of that nature. But food is something that we can help provide and lessen the pressure on a family’s budget.
“We’re trying to make sure that we’re out in the community responding to the 10 counties we serve, and we’re making sure there’s food to our charity partners or directly distributed by us wherever we can move that. So five million meals is an incredible contribution to that effort. It’s the largest we’ve had here in Tampa Bay, and it couldn’t come at a better time and it couldn’t come at a more important time."
Feeding Tampa Bay has been a partner with the Bucs for years. They sponsor Turkey Time with the offensive line each Thanksgiving, when players provide holiday meals for disadvantaged families.
Mantz is hopeful the Glazers’ generous donation will draw attention to Feeding Tampa Bay and encourage others to contribute.
“It establishes leadership," Mantz said. “It says, ‘Hey this cause is important. We’re giving to it, and you know their reputation in their community and their position in the community, so it really helps us tell the story of those we’re trying to help."
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