The line forms around 8:30 just as the Florida sun drags the morning temperature up to an uncomfortable 85 degrees. They come in aged cars, vans, jeeps and trucks with rust spots and broken windows and doors and they come in nice, late model sedans and SUVs and on this day, a corvette. They’re on foot and on bike. Their organization is dictated by traffic cones in the parking lot of Metropolitan Ministries’ Outreach off US 19 in Pasco County, a community of roadside billboards and family homes that fall below the country’s average household income.
Normally, the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor leaguers would be queued up off the same road about 10 minutes south preparing for a Florida State League or Gulf Coast League game. But not today. Not this year. There is no minor league baseball. There is no more a lot of things. For the eclectic group waiting outside in the tropical sun there is no food or no money, or at least not enough.
Many are elderly, their back floorboards littered with empty prescription bottles and fast food wrappers. A folded-up walker or wheelchair is often resting on the seat above, or in the trunk. The older vans and trucks are sometimes de facto mobile homes containing worldly possessions and often a pet curled up awkwardly amongst it all. And there are the moms and others in slightly more updated vehicles in line because of a decision they were forced to make: pay the rent or eat. They chose the former and rely on Metropolitan Ministries to help with the rest.
Almost all are victims of the pandemic or a failed economy in combination with health or medical challenges. Some are dealing with addiction or family abuse issues. For others, it’s just plain bad luck.
“We’re seeing former volunteers coming through now that are going through a tough time,” says Mary Treichel, Outreach Pasco’s Associate Director. “Some of them in line are driving nice cars, but you don’t know what decisions they have had to make. Like all of us, they weren’t prepared for the pandemic and they didn’t know what to do.”
So, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings since March, they have come to a place where staff and volunteers proudly have the word HOPE stenciled on the front of their T shirts…and in their hearts. “Food, hygiene, help with electric and water bills, and rent are all things we help our clients with,” says Mary. “With all that’s going on now, we’ve had to hire seasonal workers to help with the financial piece.”
No one goes away empty-handed. At Metropolitan Ministries’ main campus in Tampa, the same scene plays out on a larger scale. According to Billy Somerville, Metropolitan Ministries’ Associate Director of Brand Communications, the centers in Pasco and Tampa combined have paid out $1.58 million directly to landlords and utility companies to assist at risk families in nearby counties during the pandemic. They have distributed nearly 40,000 food boxes that feed a family of four for three days. They have delivered another 1,500 boxes to the homes of those who are immunocompromised or lack transportation. It’s all part of a program proudly supported by the Respect 90 Foundation.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. “No one expected this to last this long,” says Mary, who has led her team in meeting all of the community’s unprecedented needs in a safe and efficient manner. “That it’s lasted 25 weeks is unbelievable. We’ve had double the number of families in Pasco that we have in normal outreach days. But,” she adds, “the support and the number of donations has been amazing. We’re missing volunteers because many are elderly and can’t be out in this summer heat. It’s a new challenge. It’s the volunteers who keep us going That and the support of organizations like Respect 90.”
Rick Vaughn | Executive Director, Respect 90 Foundation