TAMPA — Jeff and Penny Vinik are trying to address the needs they see in the Tampa Bay community. Through the Lightning and the Vinik Family Foundation, they have now put nearly $2 million toward COVID-19 relief.
A couple of weeks ago, the Viniks donated $300,000 to Metropolitan Ministries to go toward food and rent assistance. On Tuesday, they more than tripled that amount, adding another $700,000 for a total of $1 million to Metropolitan Ministries.
The unemployment rate in the state of Florida has skyrocketed from 2.8 percent in February to 4.3 in March. The need for food and rent assistance has risen with it.
Metropolitan Ministries says 75 percent of the families they are serving are new to them.
“There is an immediate, crucial need to help families stay above water between now and the time we can reopen our businesses and bring back our employees,” Jeff Vinik said in a statement. “Metropolitan Ministries has been outstanding at helping meet the basic needs of our neighbors who are struggling through the COVID-19 response.”
Metropolitan Ministries CEO Tim Marks has seen people lining up at 9 a.m. to receive food boxes, which are available starting at 10 a.m. The organization has given out more than 7,000 boxes (which total about 12 meals apiece), and more than 127,000 grab-and-go family meals in the last month.
The case managers assessing rent assistance needs and qualifications are maxed out, but Marks feels they could easily take another 1,000 families from their pool of applications if they had the capacity.
“I feel like we’re only scratching the surface as far as need is concerned,” Marks said.
The Viniks’ donation will address all of those programs. Metropolitan Ministries has partnered with civic funds like One Tampa, but the benefit of private donations is they can be spread beyond a specific geographic area. The organization has physical locations in Tampa and Holiday, but benefits people as far as Sarasota and Spring Hill.
As an independent non-profit organization, Metropolitan Ministries does not have a national base to draw from.
The Viniks have donated more funds to Metropolitan Ministries than anything else, but have also contributed to fund that help on multiple fronts. They gave $100,000 to both One Tampa and a similar fund in St. Petersburg to help individuals and small businesses — the Rays and Bucs also contributed equal amounts to both funds — and $50,000 to a student fund at USF.
They have also spent more than $200,000 on a public service announcement campaign to spread awareness of other existing aid services targeting food needs (including Metropolitan Ministries), small businesses and unemployment.
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In addition, the Lightning have made donations of physical items. When events at Amalie Arena were postponed and canceled, the organization sent 18 pallets worth of food to Metropolitan Ministries and Feeding Tampa Bay. The team gave supplies like n95 masks and gloves to local healthcare facilities as well as t-shirts for doctors and nurses to change into after their shifts. It also gave plastic bags to Feeding Tampa Bay to assist with food distribution. Those aren’t big things, but it never hurts to share what you have.
The Lightning players also donated 500,000 meals through Feeding Tampa Bay. The team also is giving away their special St. Patrick’s Day jerseys (never worn) to first responders and doctors and nurses. Some of the organization’s staff has also done grocery shopping for season ticket members who cannot for go themselves.