It’s a rusted shopping cart, strewn with clothes.
It’s a makeshift encampment just off the road, built with an old bed sheet and a tattered tent.
It’s a backpack, dusty and overpacked, sitting behind the convenience store.
We wouldn’t bother to reclaim these items from a junk yard and the junk yard wouldn’t even accept them.
But for the homeless, such items stand as prized possessions.
And signs of suffering.
Too often, we shrug and shake our heads as we drive by these lonely landmarks, unsure of how to help.
Metropolitan Ministries no longer could wait and wonder. At its Bridge Builders Luncheon before more than 1,000 people on Thursday, it officially launched its “Metro Brigaide” with the help of Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and his wife Nikki DeBartolo, who served as luncheon co-chairs.
The effort takes the services the nonprofit has distributed for nearly 50 years and deliver them to new clients who can’t find their way to Metropolitan Ministries’ primary campus in Tampa Heights or its satellite locations in Pinellas and Pasco. As officials noted, you can’t reach an office if it means leaving your camp unattended, or giving up your spot on a bench.
“Through mobile outreach, we can turn ourselves inside out with collaboration,” said MetMin president and CEO Tim Marks.
Chronister will be key to the collaborative involvement because the Brigaide — spelled with an “I” to denote its aid-oriented mission — will work closely with deputies to connect with those in need. He noted that the nonprofit has gone from annually helping 70 families to uplifting 740 families on a yearly basis.
“This is how an organization makes a difference in the community,” Chronister said.
At the luncheon, MetMin honored The DeBartolo Family Foundation, the nonprofit led by Nikki and Lisa DeBartolo, but that’s just one of the 342 partners helping the Brigaide reach new clients. The team includes 50 staff and AmeriCorps volunteers, often clad in fluorescent green T-shirts, visiting the wooded encampments and homeless enclaves on a daily basis.
Since the effort started in earnest last fall, the team has served 1,200 clients with critical resources: identification acquisition; employment referrals/resources; access to food stamps and Medicaid and Social Security benefit application assistance. They’ve also directed them to meal sites and provided clothing and hygiene products.
The Brigaide also has established mini-hub sites in 20 locations throughout Tampa Bay.
Overall, the nonprofit’s programs have extended in new ways in recent years to help at-risk families and put people on career paths, including a culinary training program that’s energized lives. In fact, some of the culinary trainees prepared the lunch — deconstructed Korean barbecue wraps — after learning how to prepare the treat during a visit to Candy DeBartolo’s Sacred Pepper restaurant in Carrollwood.
Yet, the first value in its mission statement involves alleviating suffering. The Metro Brigaide directly addresses that core goal, and to continue the successful launch, all it has to do is follow the signs.
And just maybe, those signs of suffering can become signs of hope.
That’s all I’m saying.