‘Stamp Out Hunger’ drive will help with summer demand, Tampa Bay food banks say

TAMPA, Fla. — Mail carriers across Tampa Bay will drop a gray plastic bag in mailboxes Friday ahead of the national Stamp Out Hunger food drive collection taking place Saturday. They’re hoping communities will fill the bag with non-perishable items for them to pick up on their mail distribution routes and donate to local food banks.

“There’s not another company in America that can put a bag and a postcard in every mailbox, and then… as we drive past every house and every neighborhood… will pick up that food and bring it back to the post office and donate it all back to the food banks to help feed the community,” said Florida President for Letter Carriers Al Friedman.

All of Hillsborough County’s donations will go to Metropolitan Ministries, a nonprofit helping feed four counties in Tampa Bay.

Right now, the need is greater than we’ve ever seen before,” said Brensey Thompson-Hurst, a spokesperson for Metropolitan Ministries.

About one million residents in the Tampa Bay region are food insecure.

On Tampa Bay’s Network To End Hunger’s ‘Hunger Gap Map,’ much of Tampa Bay is shaded and is at least 10% food insecure. A few pockets of Tampa and South St. Pete are up to 50% food insecure.

HUNGER GAP MAP. png

Network to End Hunger

Tampa Bay’s Network To End Hunger’s ‘Hunger Gap Map,’ shows much of our area is at least 10% food insecure.

We’re seeing families who are already struggling, struggling more,” said Thompson-Hurst, “But the unique thing is we’re seeing families who have never needed help before, some who have two parents working in a home that are coming to us that need help.”

The St. Petersburg Free Clinic Jared S. Hechtkopf Community food bank will accept Pinellas County donations. The nonprofit told ABC Action News that the number of residents they serve has doubled in the last year. Since October of 2022, they’ve fed more than 200,000 people.

David Himmelgreen is the director of the USF Center for the Advancement of Food Security & Healthy. He said many counties in Florida have higher food insecurity rates than the national average.

There is a very big concern with things like the cost of living being so high, food, rent, utilities, insurance — especially in Florida, inflation, the economic precarity we have right now,” Himmelgreen said.

While food banks have become community lifelines, Himmelgreen explained there are other short-term and long-term solutions to food insecurity.

They include more:

  • Food vouchers through medical facilities
  • Mobile food pantries and kiosks
  • School food pantries
  • Growing local food
  • National policy commitments

“One that I know best and I’m getting involved with are these ‘Food is Medicine’ programs, where people will actually go to the health care clinic or a hospital, and if they are food insecure, they’ll have access to an on-site food pantry, or they’ll be given food vouchers that they can use in mobile food pantries, or go to a place like Walmart and redeem fresh produce, for example. And there have been a number of programs like that in Tampa Bay,” Himmelgreen explained.

“There are over 75 school pantries across Hillsborough, Pinellas, and I think some other counties in Tampa Bay,” he went on. “Kids are at especially high risk…households with children tend to always have higher rates of food insecurity. So if you can bring the food to the kids and school into their families.”

“And one of the big issues… food deserts. People live in places where there really is little or inadequate food available and they don’t have the transportation or resources to go to those places where they can get healthier food. So by setting up some sort of kiosk or delivery hub for food, people in food deserts can access food that would be helpful and that’s been tested in a number of places throughout the country and chose to be fairly effective,” added Himmelgreen.

Metropolitan Ministries showed ABC Action News some of the empty shelves in their warehouse in Tampa.

“We typically see donations in the summer slow down than the regular year and so the food drive really helps out because it helps us make it through the summer,” Thompson-Hurst explained.

The good news is that even though the need is great in Florida, so is the help from neighbors.

It is the largest one-day food drive in America. Florida leads every state in the country with over 10 million pounds of food collected on that one day. Let’s go ahead and get back to that,” Friedman encouraged.

While homes across the country received postcards about the food drive the day before, Florida is the only state that also gets a plastic bag. That’s because the company Valpak that makes the cards is in St. Petersburg, Friedman said.

Residents can put any donations out by their mailbox on Saturday, May 13. It does not have to be in the provided bag.

The Farm Share Program provides free food of charge to local community partner agencies as well as directly to families, children, senior citizens, and individuals in need to address food insecurity throughout the state of Florida. For more information on this program, contact Farm Share at 1-305-246-3276 or [email protected].

If you or someone you know needs assistance with food and other resources, you can visit the Feeding America website, and enter your state and zip code to find your nearest food pantry. You can also search for Meals on Wheels resources.

Other resources:

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