Today, October 17, is Eradication of Poverty Day. It’s an international day to raise awareness, promote dialog and provide those experiencing poverty the platform to share their issues, needs and concerns.

At Feeding Tampa Bay, we strive to provide that platform to our guests every day.

To us, food is foundational. It’s a catalyst for change. As Feeding Tampa Bay CEO, Thomas Mantz, has said, “We know that a child well fed catapults forward, a senior with good nutrition enjoys the rewards of a life well lived and we know families with stocked pantries can flourish.” But food is just the beginning. While it’s the most basic of necessities, it’s typically the first to be sacrificed when up against paying electric bills or car payments. Whenever hunger exists, it very rarely exists alone, which is what has driven us toward our Food for Today, Food for Tomorrow and Food for a Lifetime pathway to a hunger-free Tampa Bay.

Our new Feeding Pinellas Empowerment Center, to be opened next month, is designed to do just that: provide a hot meal for today, groceries and assistance for tomorrow and a pathway to the future through capability that comes from access to education, training and other wrap-around services. As the first localized solution of Feeding Tampa Bay outside of Hillsborough County, we want to become a hub for our community. A one-stop-shop for our neighbors in need of resources to make a better tomorrow.

The heart of our work at Feeding Pinellas will be through our Trinity Cafe. If you follow our work, you know that Trinity Cafe is our free, full service restaurant where every guest is served a nutritious, 3-course meal with dignity and respect. At Trinity Cafe Pinellas, we want our guests to feel empowered. Empowered to walk through our doors and feel that same sense of dignity. The dignity they may have lost through their struggle with poverty. That’s why every guest of Trinity Cafe, no matter their status, identity, or life experience, is greeted at the door by our maître D, seated around a table and served as if they were in a restaurant. That’s what makes Trinity special, and that’s how we’re going to ensure Food for Today.

Trinity Cafe brings people in. It removes the immediate fear of asking for assistance, and because we know hunger is often surrounded by other challenges, we want to remove the barriers to accessing basic needs. No one should have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping the lights on. The Feeding Pinellas Food Pantry will provide additional food relief outside of the hot meal. Fresh produce, pantry staples, household supplies and Trinity Cafe frozen meals will line the shelves and guests will be invited to shop as if they’re shopping at their local grocery store or farmer’s market. The pantry is the first step of Food for Tomorrow. We want to teach our guests how to navigate a system of resources. Through our FoodPlus programs, like our SNAP benefits assistance and our UniteUs Coordination Center, we’ll be able to help guests supplement other aspects of their budget. When people have either income or resources in place of income, it’s more likely all of their basic needs will be met.

Once those basic needs are met, and in order to get out of poverty altogether, our guests will need access to education, training and avenues to employment. This brings us to Food for a Lifetime. With an expansion of our FRESHforce workforce development program into Pinellas County, we hope to provide our guests the training and skills needed to gain employment, resulting in a steady stream of income.

Now, we know Feeding Tampa Bay does not do it all, nor do we try to, which is why through this empowerment center model we will be focused on collective impact. Collective impact describes an intentional way of working together to solve a complex problem. The complex problem we’re all working toward is eradicating poverty, and because we know food brings people in, we will be opening our doors to our neighboring community partners to offer their services to the residents of Pinellas County. The goal here is to work together, in one space, to bridge the resource gaps our neighbors in need are experiencing.

By opening our doors at our Feeding Pinellas Empowerment Center, we hope to not only make a dent in the 33,689,204 meals needed in Pinellas County, but to break the cycle of hunger and open doors to long-term stability.

Written by Ragan McGillis, Community Empowerment Center Manager