The holiday season is synonymous with joy, togetherness, and celebration. But for some people in our community, it can also be an unimaginably difficult time. Many struggle to live paycheck-to-paycheck, put food on the table, or find adequate shelter during the colder winter months. That’s why, together, we celebrate National Hunger and Homeless Awareness week. As an organization committed to uplifting the Tampa Bay community, we aim to raise awareness about these struggles and provide support to those experiencing them.
This year, National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, usually celebrated one week before Thanksgiving, begins immediately after Veterans Day. Our community is filled with neighbors who have served in the armed forces for many different reasons. But despite their diverse backgrounds, they live by a uniting motto:
Service before self.
It means placing service to others above one’s own personal interests. To work toward something bigger than yourself. It’s a commendable virtue to live by. But, too often, the complex issues that veterans face get overlooked by policy writers and changemakers. As a result, many veterans and active duty military members struggle to make ends meet. This can make it that much more difficult for them to feed and house their families. So, we wanted to take the chance to highlight the ways in which our community’s veterans are impacted by food insecurity and homelessness.
According to the 2022 Annual Report done by Florida’s Council on Homelessness, roughly 2,231 veterans are experiencing homelessness in the state. Many are also food insecure. Working-age veterans, for example, are 7.4% more likely to live in a food-insecure household than nonveterans. Although the unemployment rate for veterans in Florida is relatively low, many with disabilities still face barriers to finding jobs. These can include accessibility issues, lack of transportation to and from work, discrimination, a lack of access to support services, etc.
Moreover, recent ALICE (asset-limited, income-constrained, employed) data revealed that 29% of veterans in Florida “lived in a household with income below the ALICE threshold of financial survival in 2019.” This means that these veterans earned above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but it still wasn’t enough for them to afford the basic necessities where they lived. With the COVID-19 pandemic and Tampa’s housing affordability crisis further harming our neighbors, many veterans continue to struggle with putting food on the table.
Ways that Feeding Tampa Bay is here to Help
- Mobile Pantries
- The best way to get food to people who need it is to meet them where they’re at. That’s exactly what our mobile pantries are designed to do. We bring fresh groceries to food deserts – places that lack readily-available and nutritious products. There, you can receive boxes of produce and shelf-stable groceries. Check out the Find Food page on our website to find a mobile pantry near you.
- Feeding Tampa Bay has also partnered with the Bautista Project Inc. to help veterans, active duty military members, and first responders through the Service to Service pantry. The drive-through pantry takes place every 4th Wednesday of the month from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Keeney Chapel in Tampa. You can register for the pantry here.
- SNAP and other assistance programs
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides benefits to eligible low-income individuals and families so they can purchase the food they need. It’s a powerful tool in the fight against hunger. However, only 7% of veterans participate in the program nationwide compared to 15% of the general population. Of Florida’s approximately 1.5 million veterans, 108,000 participate in SNAP – more than any other state on average from 2017-2019. To get SNAP benefits, you can apply through the Florida Department of Children and Families portal. There are also special provisions for SNAP eligibility regarding veterans with disabilities. If a veteran is receiving disability payments or payments for aid and attendance, they are considered disabled for SNAP purposes.
- Trinity Cafe
- Trinity Cafe provides fresh, free, hot meals to those who need them most. But more than that, all 3 locations act as places for community building and conversation. They are spaces where neighbors – many veterans and/or homeless folks – can enjoy a meal while being treated with dignity and respect. Members of FTB’s community engagement team are onsite to further assist people in applying for food assistance and other social service programs. For more information about Trinity Cafe, check out this page!
At Feeding Tampa Bay, we recognize the courageous efforts of our community’s veterans. And we aim to ensure that they receive the support they need to live comfortably. We remember this not only during National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, but all days of the year as well.
By Hannah Himmelgreen