We have all experienced hunger at one time or another: We’ve all craved a midnight snack, wanted something salty or needed some chocolate. But there’s a big difference between trying to satisfy a brief craving or stomach growl and wondering when or from where your next meal will come.
Many food-insecure folks are working adults, or children under 18, or senior citizens. They are local families. They pay rent. They have mortgages. They go to work. They go to school. They serve in the military.
More than 700,000 people in the Tampa Bay area, of all ages, can be termed “food insecure”. What does that mean? It means they have no consistent or easy access to safe and nutritionally sufficient food. And if you associate hunger with homelessness, or with lack of education, think again. Many food-insecure folks are working adults, or children under 18, or senior citizens. They are local families. They pay rent. They have mortgages. They go to work. They go to school. They serve in the military. Nineteen percent of families who go hungry in our area have someone who is either currently serving in the military or has served in the past. They are also hungry.
As CEO of GoodWorks 360°, (and Publisher and Editor-in-Chief this global multimedia platform), I was delighted to have the opportunity to sit down with Mandy Cloninger, Executive Director of Trinity Cafe AND Thomas Mantz, Executive Director of Feeding Tampa Bay, to learn not only about their respective nonprofit “missions” but equally about their forward-thinking decision to merge for the good of the communities they serve. Sit back and enjoy our “World Changers At Work” (WOW) Interview Session below…
Tell us more about the history and mission(s) of Trinity Cafe and Feeding Tampa Bay.
Trinity Cafe: In the Spring of 2001 at the request of Fr Mike Muhr, Jeff Darrey, Trinity Cafe’s Founding Director and Board Chairman, embarked upon a mission of finding a food service model for the homeless and those in need. In his business travels throughout the U.S., Darrey saw a variety of options from soup kitchens to bagged sandwich lunches to cafeteria-style meals served on disposable tableware. He recommended to Fr Muhr a restaurant-style meal where guests are seated and served by volunteers. Unconditionally and with no requirements. If you’re hungry, you’ll be served.
“I believe this is the way Christ would treat the poor,” Darrey said.
Along with another Trinity Cafe co-founder, Bob Mullen, Darrey embarked on recruiting like-minded individuals to form a board of directors, and Trinity Cafe opened. Since October 15, 2001, it has been Trinity Cafe’s mission to restore dignity to those in need while serving a nutritious meal. We have remained faithful to this commitment and served more than 1.4 million meals during the past 17 years. Guests are greeted and seated at tables set with cloths and flowers. Meals are served on china, in courses by community volunteers; 32 each day at each location. Last year more than 16,000 volunteers provided service to our guests. The hallmark of our service is creating a dignified environment and an intentional community where every person is treated with acceptance, compassion, love, and respect.
Feeding Tampa Bay: One in seven adults and one in four children in our community are food insecure. Since 1982, Feeding Tampa Bay has served as a constant source of nourishment to these hard-working individuals, families, and seniors by sourcing and supplying food to more than 500 agency and community partners in a 10-county region. From humble beginnings – starting off as a small organization known as the Divine Providence Food Bank serving a couple hundred people – to great successes – Feeding Tampa Bay now provides more than 4 million meals every month to hundreds of thousands of neighbors in need – Feeding Tampa Bay has become the backbone of hunger relief in the Tampa Bay area. As part of the Feeding America network of food banks, the organization has put health at the forefront of its mission and continues to utilize innovative thinking and collaboration to bring long-term solutions to the individuals and families it serves.
What was the impetus or inspiration behind your merger?
Trinity Cafe: Relationships around a table are foundational to Trinity Cafe’s model. Jeff Darrey and Thomas Mantz were initially introduced six years ago by a long-time volunteer of Trinity Cafe, Lorraine Cranston when Thomas became executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay. A friendship developed that opened the door to bold and courageous conversations. Thomas Mantz also introduced me to Jeff Darrey nearly four years ago. The changing needs of the guests we serve are the primary inspiration: no one should go hungry. A culture of dignity, respect, and empathy for the neighbors, guests, and community served is prevalent in both organizations. Thoughtful leadership from both boards of directors to say we can do better together ultimately will benefit the guests we serve, our blended work family and the community at large.
Feeding Tampa Bay: Our objective has been two-fold: improve our response to the needs of the community and develop innovative solutions in our field of work. It’s safe to say the proliferation of non-profit organizations has created donor and supporter confusion. We think there’s a better way – consolidation and partnership – and this is our first step to a new model. As we move more fully into our strategic plan, this type of thinking and this level of boldness will be the hallmark of our efforts. Our merger with Trinity Cafe is complementary and for any venture of this type to be successful, both organizations must be fiscally healthy and organizationally sound. More importantly, we do not have competing services and can, in fact, accomplish more together. We have many common partners who donate time or treasure, and our merger will enable greater opportunities for both to expand. Our donors will see a larger return on investment, and volunteers will now have a variety of opportunities for serving.
How will you collaborate/reap benefits as a merged organization?
Trinity Cafe: Trinity Cafe’s model and kitchen will be the centerpiece of expansion across Feeding Tampa Bay’s 10-county service area. Creating community empowerment centers that will include short- and long-term meal solutions, a cafe, a food pantry, take-home meals, children’s meals, and in the future, a culinary training program. The expanded vision is to provide access to benefits, healthy meal options and independence in the future, empowering those initially in need to address common barriers such as health care, housing, and unemployment. The Trinity Cafe model can lead to a blueprint of community empowerment centers that can be shared across the country via the Feeding America network.
Feeding Tampa Bay: Most notably, the people we serve will be given a menu of services from which to choose. Imagine a person who may come to Trinity Cafe for a hot meal today with the option to take home a bag of groceries for the coming days. Or, think of the many children Feeding Tampa Bay supports having the ability to enjoy healthy take-home cooked meals prepared by Trinity Cafe. Feeding Tampa Bay does not have a kitchen, so merging with Trinity Cafe will allow us to provide more prepared meals to the community, an identified need of our constituents. A significant goal for Trinity Cafe has been expanding across a greater footprint and Feeding Tampa Bay’s 10-county service territory offers this opportunity.
How will your merger impact your respective missions and the people/communities you serve?
What will not change is Trinity Cafe’s model of service, led by our devoted volunteers. We will continue to serve 365 days a year with dignity and respect.
Trinity Cafe: Today, Maria and her four boys ages 2 to 12 sometimes rely on Trinity Cafe for a hot, nutritious meal served with dignity. Approximately one in 700,000 neighbors in the greater Tampa Bay area and one in four children struggle with hunger. They access a meal as well as a children’s take-home meal in partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay. With the merger, Maria and her children will have access to a much more robust response to their needs. A meal today, a meal for tomorrow, and access to the benefits that help them to be self-sufficient and provide meals forever. What will not change is Trinity Cafe’s model of service, led by our devoted volunteers. We will continue to serve 365 days a year with dignity and respect. We will continue to sit with our guests, getting to know them and building relationships and community in our dining rooms. Another thing that will not change is our commitment to be small enough to know our volunteers, yet large enough to operate from a position of strength and change the landscape of hunger relief in these 10 counties. Ultimately, we hope to pave the way for this blueprint to be used across the country.
The merger allows us to serve our neighbors in need individually and collectively – each interaction will be meaningful, yet we can create thousands more interactions by expanding.
Feeding Tampa Bay: As noted earlier, there is a changing nature to the community we serve – and like any good organization, we want to be responsive to those changes. Food relief has evolved dramatically over the 50 years of its life, and our next iteration follows the trend in all households towards more individualized service. Feeding Tampa Bay already has a significant impact – 60 million pounds of food in a year, and we support over 500 agencies like Trinity Cafe. The merger allows us to serve our neighbors in need individually and collectively – each interaction will be meaningful, yet we can create thousands more interactions by expanding. We can now deliver by the truckload or the plateful – a comprehensive model.