By Matt Spence
The front door hasn’t even closed yet and three sets of feet can be heard running my direction. There is no calm “Mr. Rogersesque “moment of shoe removal before the tidal wave of questions and stories (mostly about food) erupt from the Spence boys. After the first few moments of mayhem, things settle down, a bit. Most nights, we eat dinner together and talk. Stories revolve around recess and lunch and, occasionally, with enough prompting, we can even get an academic highlight thrown in. It is easy to get them going. But, eventually, the spotlight turns in my direction.
“What did you do today?”
Usually it is the youngest, Nolan, who asks: “What did you do today?” Through the years, I have answered with a comment about a nonprofit I visited, a person I talked with, or a project I learned about, or helped to grow. But to seven, nine and thirteen-year old boys, those moments do not really resonate. It is tough to share the process of building social services in response to community issues without getting into the “weeds,” or beyond what connects to their daily lives. In the past, the details of my day have not really resonated with young, energetic, blessed and, thankfully, carefree boys. I love it that things are different now.
“Dad, what did you do today?”
“I fed people.”
“Today, we opened a school pantry that will help feed hundreds of families. They will now get to eat their favorite meals around their family table, just like us,” I tell them.
That, the boys understand. They can picture me going off to work, making sure that children very much like them, have family meals. They know how important that time, and that experience, is to me. They can see why this type of work is a good way for me to spend my day.
At Feeding Tampa Bay, there is no confusion about what we do or why we exist. We feed people. There is no hesitation when you ask any one of our nearly 100 employees what we do each day. We feed people, they will tell you. And now I’m proud to give that answer every single day when Nolan asks.
The hunger numbers are staggering, almost too big to comprehend. There are nearly 600,000 food insecure people in Tampa Bay. Today, over 65 million pounds of food have been shared with the community. We have over 500 partner agencies across 10 counties supporting the hungry and needy in our midst. Our 80,000 square foot warehouse is busting at the seams and our 24 truck fleet could be on the road delivering food 24 hours each day. Our army, consisting of over 45,000 volunteers and 200 corporate partners, stand shoulder-to-shoulder fighting hunger in Tampa Bay. Yet, we are only halfway there.
Ten million meals need to be provided each month. That’s what it will take to end hunger in Tampa Bay. That’s how many meals we need to provide to ensure everyone who is hungry, every food insecure individual across West Central Florida, has access to the food they need to live a productive, healthy life.
So what do I do at Feeding Tampa Bay? I feed people. What do our volunteers do when they come to our warehouse and sort donated food into banana boxes so we can send them out to churches, social service agencies, and other community partners? They feed people. What do our truck drivers, forklift operators, volunteer coordinators, inventory managers, fiscal specialists and administrative assistants do when they come to work in the morning? They feed people.
And, best of all, what does Nolan do when he joins daddy at work on a Saturday morning distributing produce at Trinity Cafe 2? He, too, feeds people.
Because no one should go hungry.
Our organization has put a “stake” in the ground. Drawn a line in the sand. We want to end hunger in Tampa Bay by 2025. Achieving that goal will not be easy. It will require more food, more friends, and more funding. It will also require a broad community commitment to the work that needs doing. We firmly believe we can, and will, do it.
How can we get 115 million meals into the community by 2025?
We need to evolve our methods and partners to make food available at the right times, in the right places, for those who need it. We will have to energize our community by providing access to high quality, nutritious foods across the region. We will have to engage anyone willing to stand beside us and help build a social movement committed to the mission. And, we will need to empower the neighbors we serve to help them access resources and embrace opportunities so they can get out of the food line forever.
We are building programs that engage children in solving social challenges. We are inviting families into our work through Family Nights at the warehouse. We are always ready to welcome another set of helping hands – no matter how small.
What do we do? We feed people. Why?
Because no one should go hungry.
Matt Spence is Chief Programs Officer at Feeding Tampa Bay – an organization working everyday toward a hunger-free Tampa Bay by building solutions at the intersection of hunger, health, and poverty.