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Blanketing The Bay And Beyond

Warmth, Comfort And A Barrier

Blankets provide so much for the Homeless. Blankets provide warmth, comfort as a pillow, barrier between a body and an ant-filled patch of grass or dirt, shelter from the elements, even a sense of security and peace. At any time, any one of us could be living on the streets. All it takes is one life-changing event to leave someone homeless, cold, and feeling alone. In those moments, kindness and basic resources can be what brings hope, shelter, and an opportunity for better circumstances. And that’s where the Blanket Tampa Bay story begins … Each and every year, Blanket Tampa Bay gives out more than 5,000 blankets and thousands of hygiene items across the Tampa Bay community, involving people of every age, interest, and need.

Our Interview

As Publisher and Editor-in-Chief this global multimedia platform and Chief Encouragement Officer of GoodWorks 360°, I was delighted to have the opportunity to sit down with Beth Ross, Founder & Executive Director of Blanket Tampa Bay to learn more about her amazing mission.

We’d like to hear about your professional journey before launching Blanket Tampa Bay.

Before I started Blanket Tampa Bay I was in outside sales for a staffing company. I have been in sales all my life and love it. I worked for the Estee Lauder Company as a Business Manager, Sold Advertising for the Tampa Tribune (before it was sold), and years earlier did Visual Merchandising for Dept. Stores.

Tell us about the Blanket Tampa Bay and the inspiration behind it.

We started with $100 – The church my husband and I attended was given a very large donation. So, the elders decided to give every family $100 dollars and said, “Go do something good with this money and we will get back together in January to see how everyone used the money”. This was in the fall several years ago when it was very cold. I told my husband I wanted to buy blankets for the homeless (because I hate being cold) so I went home and created the Facebook page I have today and asked for 300 blankets. I did that because I told the Director of Trinity Café I would get her 300 blankets and we could pass them out every Christmas for the homeless that come there to eat. Because they feed about 285 people every day and I thought it would be nice for everyone to get a gift.

I received blankets from Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Alabama and in the end, we had 308 blankets!

The next year we decided to pass out blankets again at Trinity, so we did another blanket drive. That year we received over 800! That’s when I decided to become a 501c3. I told my CPA and he said it would take a few months to get the certification, I received the paperwork from the IRS within 2 weeks!

The one thing I learned from passing out blankets to the homeless is that they never get to choose anything for themselves, they always have to take what is given to them. So, if they want a special colored blanket or design I stop the line and they choose!

When did you launch and what’s been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been fundraising. I would love to have a person or a company who could sponsor us for everything we purchase each week because as soon as a donation comes in it goes out again to buy hygiene products each week. So, it’s a vicious circle.

How has it grown or changed over time?

Blanket Tampa Bay has grown from just passing out blankets to passing out every type of hygiene product. We have been blessed because Bombas Socks donates socks to us as well as a company called Clean the World out of Orlando Florida. They provide us with soap and shampoo. I asked a homeless friend of mine to tell me what type of products do the homeless need? He gave me a list and that’s what I pass out on Monday nights as we serve.

What’s your everyday role?

My everyday role is sending out emails, picking up donations, calling folks or meeting with people for Blanket Tampa Bay, and then my daytime job in sales for a staffing company, finding people work.

What’s been your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge has been time. For years I have always felt like I didn’t have enough time to do everything I needed to do. Not in a way where it comes to time management, but that I will run out of time for everything. So, if I had to choose between working on this passion of mine with the homeless and my daytime job, I would choose the homeless.

Any noteworthy surprises or ‘A-ha’ Moments?

I found Charles alone on a bus bench 2 years ago after seeing him there 2 days in a row and giving him blankets, water, and snacks. I pulled into the parking lot behind him and watched as people got off the bus in front of him. People wouldn’t even make eye contact with him because he was a “bum”. I called a friend of mine who works with the Homeless in TPD Office (Dan McDonald) who came and “Baker acted” Charles to St. Joseph Hospital, where they found out he had a broken hip and Renal failure. Charles had been staying on that bench for four days. Charles had surgery to repair his hip and fix his kidneys. He spent several weeks in the hospital and then was sent to a rehab facility. While he was there, they found out he had been an employee of Pinellas County Schools for over 30 years and had a pension. His Social Security was filed for and now Charles is living on his own in his own apartment now.

The Dr. said if I had not found him when I did he would have died on the bench.

When I visited Charles in the Rehab facility, I asked him what was his story, why was he homeless? He said he was married, and his wife owned a home and her daughter was also on the mortgage. When the wife died, her daughter kicked him out. You never know a person’s story… If Charles had been an injured animal, I’m sure someone would have taken him in.  Everyone has a story to tell, so don’t judge a book by its cover.

What about outcomes/impact/success stories?

Well, I think the biggest success story is that we are still here and growing. I have volunteers that come out to help us every Monday night and more always wanting to come help. Because there are always people that just need a little help.

What’s next /on the horizon?

An Urban Rest Stop is a building where the homeless can go take a shower, wash their clothes and use the restroom without disturbing local businesses.

The Tampa Urban Rest Stop idea came about due to a call from the New York Yankees. The person on the other end of the call identified himself as Tim Guidry and said that Ms. Jenny Steinbrenner Swindal wanted to meet with me. I met with Ms. Swindal and Mr. Guidry and Jenny went on to say that she had been on my Facebook page and website and that they have a tradition in New York of hosting what is called Hope Week, where 5 different charities are honored each day for a week. Ms.  Swindal said that they have never done this in Tampa and they wanted to do it for the first time and had chosen Blanket Tampa Bay! The Yankees sent a video team out to take a video of what we do on Monday nights at St. Peter Claver Church while we pass out blankets, hygiene products and help feed about 160 homeless people.

Then I was invited to a spring training game along with my volunteers and while we were there they showed the video on the big screen, I got to throw out the first pitch and was given a check for $10,000!

Left –Urban Rest Stop in Seattle. Right – The proposed Tampa Urban Rest Stop

After we received that check my husband and I went to Seattle Washington where the Seattle Urban Rest Stop started. An Urban Rest Stop is a building where the homeless can go take a shower, wash their clothes and use the restroom without disturbing local businesses. We met with Ronnie Gilboa the Director of the Seattle Urban Rest Stop and spent several hours there asking questions about how the Urban Rest Stop worked. After we asked all our questions we came back determined to build an Urban Rest Stop here in Tampa. We have the plans and are trying to raise the money needed for the Tampa Urban Rest Stop.

The woman who created our drawings lives in Pala Alto Ca., A T.V. show has contacted her because they want to do a segment on her containers she makes. She told them if they want to do a segment about her they may want to include what we are trying to do. We are currently looking for a small lot South of I-4 or in Ybor City.

How can our global audience learn more about and support Blanket Tampa Bay?

  • FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS Blanket Tampa Bay is a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization and financial donations are eligible for a full tax deduction. To make a financial contribution, please click the button below:
CLICK HERE TO DONATE FOR GOOD TODAY!
  • IN-KIND DONATIONS We readily accept and very much appreciate appropriate in-kind donations from individuals, community organizations, and Corporate Partners, and these items may be tax-deductible. Please consider making donations of your new or gently used blankets, clean clothing, new hygiene products, and other items that may be needed by Tampa Bay’s Homeless population. Please Contact BETH to arrange donating in-kind items.
  • VOLUNTEER Most of our workforce is comprised of volunteers. If you have a few free hours that you can dedicate to others or a skill that can be shared, we will be happy to channel it in the right direction. We also need volunteers to become Ambassadors for our organization.  As an Ambassador, you would be our champion educating others about what we do and helping to organize those who want to support our mission.  Time and again, Ambassadors have opened doors and strengthened opportunities that made an incredible difference in our mission. Take action to Volunteer HERE

PostScript

In my role as CEO of GoodWorks 360°, we come upon extraordinary nonprofits every day around the world whose mission and message grabs your heart and inspires you to step up, reach out and help them positively change their corner of the universe. Which is why it has been our pleasure to use the tools we’re blessed with to bring Blanket Tampa Bay into the limelight. By word and deed on a daily basis, Beth and amazing team bring truth to the storied words of Margaret Meade;

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Dennis J. Pitocco
Dennis J. Pitoccohttps://www.bizcatalyst360.com/
DENNIS is the Founder, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of our award-winning life, culture, and biz new media digest, With an emphasis on action, our amazing writers empower people to transcend from knowing what to do to actually doing it. Today and every day, we simply deliver the very best insights, intelligence, and inspiration available anywhere, doing it our way by placing our writers and our audience at the forefront. It's magical. It's evergreen. And quite frankly, It's just good stuff. Period. Here's more About Us. And here's more of our backstory. He is also the Founder & Chief Encouragement Officer of GoodWorks 360°, our affiliated global nonprofit social impact enterprise, dedicated to providing mission-critical pro bono services to good nonprofits worldwide. Connect with him on Linkedin to learn more about his background. Dennis is a contributing author to the Best-Selling Book Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational Change.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Dennis, you touched upon a subject that sadly too many do not think about which is our OBLIGATION to help others. How many times have you or somebody you know complained about something you do not have or wish you could have? I am guilty of that. Your ascertain that any of us can wind up being homeless faster than they can conceive of is not only a pure fact but something we all need to keep in the back of our minds. If you stop for a moment to think about the scores of people in this country not to mention all over the world for that matter who live on the street in addition to lacking for food. While this is not a new problem nor one that will ever completely go away it is a problem we must do whatever we can to help alleviate. If you can’t give money give of yourself but just give! Donate, clothes, food, volunteer, etc. but do something! We ourselves are not the sole inhabitants of this plant. I make it a part of my life to do whatever I can to help whoever I can. The fact is we the giver must give and there is no excuse to fail to do so! If we were to become homeless wouldn’t we have the mentality that people should care enough to at least try to help in some way? Thank you, Dennis, for raising awareness about this issue in addition to acting to make a difference.

  2. Dennis, this is such an inspiring story. Thank you so much for sharing Beth Ross and her work with us. She is amazing! I have been wondering what it is I could give to GoodWorks 360 and after reading this it just hit me…time. Thank you for sharing this wonderful work of helping people in need with us. As Beth said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or step over someone God puts in your way.

  3. Dennis, Thank you for sharing this interview and the work that Beth Ross and Blanket Tampa Bay is doing and what the organization is accomplishing.

    Charles story touched my heart because many of us are only one step away from homelessness. I appreciated that after watching an Oprah Winfrey Show several years ago of a lady who lived an upper middle class lifestyle, and following a divorce everything went downhill so that for months she was living in her car with her 9-year old daughter and using gas station bathrooms for daily hygiene.

    There is an organization in my area which has been working towards purchasing a portable shower for the Homeless. I’ve contributed, but it’s possible I could do more.

    We’re all equal in God’s eyes!

  4. Dennis, thank you for introducing the readers of BizCatalyst360, to this charity and Beth Ross. I will do my part to help and will pass along this article on my FB page. Had I won the last big lottery I would have certainly become a sponsor, but for now it will be In Kind. I will pray and keep this founder in prayer. Scripture says “When you do for the least of these you do for Me”. God Bless Beth Ross and all who contribute.

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