Nearly a million people in Feeding Tampa Bay’s 10-county region of 4.4 million are food insecure, according to Thomas Mantz, president and CEO of the organization, which is an arm of Feeding America. That means they can’t get to sources of healthy food or don’t have enough money to buy what they need.
Feeding Tampa Bay finds and retrieves available excess food from grocery stores, farms and other outlets and delivers it directly to those in need and to 450 charities in its region. It’s a massive effort that relies on donations from corporations and individuals and some 50,000 volunteers a year.
“We do job training, we connect people to benefits, resources, training, partnerships, so when they come see us they not only come in for a meal, they have access to a future,’’ Mantz says.
Mantz talked with the Tampa Bay Times about the mission. This is the second part of a two-part conversation. The first part appeared last Sunday.
How do you work with other food banks?
One of the things about Feeding Tampa Bay is that we’re the only organization in Tampa Bay that does what we do. Think about our mission. … Around food, we’re kind of the large wholesaler. We collect all the excess resource wherever it exists — grocery stores, farms, manufacturers, any other retailers, everywhere there’s excess food. We have close to 60 trucks out on the road every single day, making sure that we collect excess.
We then in turn either deliver it ourselves, so we may provide direct service, but we also support about 450 different charities across our 10 counties, so we’re their main provider of food. Someone who is in a local area like in St. Pete or up in Citrus County or down in Manatee may go to their local church or their local provider and they’ll get food from them. The reality is it came through us. Because we’re the only one that does that. …
Last year we provided about 95 million meals.
How do you handle the holidays? Is it a time of more demand?
It’s not more of a demand time. The same number of folks are food insecure in November as there are in June or March. What we have, I think, we have a community that is more aware of giving. … We have more folks that will call us and say it’s a Thanksgiving tradition for my family to volunteer, or a Christmas tradition to volunteer, or this is the time of year that my company likes to give back, all of which we’re grateful for.
So it brings greater awareness and resources to the cause, but the same number of folks are considered food insecure (year round). … We try and make sure, like we do every single day of the year, that pantries are full, meals are served and folks have what they want. There’s greater pressure around making sure we get things like turkeys and stuff like that. We try and help with that, but we find it’s much more important to make sure that the pantry is full. That provides greater economic capability to the households that we serve. The less money you have to go spend at a grocery store, the more money you can spend across the rest of your household.
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Who donates to Feeding Tampa Bay?
Every grocery store you know donates. They all have excess capacity and they’re gracious enough to donate it to us. Oftentimes they are items that have a sell-by date that’s different than the use-by date.
So all that stuff grocery stores pull off the shelves, anything that’s close-dated, as they call it, and they put it in one of their coolers or freezers, and we have trucks that back up to 585 grocery stores three to four times a week, so we grab all of that. But we also live in a produce-rich state and area, so we have farmers who have excess capacity and they’ll let us know and we’ll go and get that food. We have other manufacturers who may have excess for a variety of reasons. So wherever there is opportunity, we’re the organization they generally call and get because we have all the trucks, the warehouse and the infrastructure necessary to get it and move it.
Do you have to buy any of the food?
We have over the last 20 months been buying food for the first time in our history. So, all told, over 20 months we’ve probably spent $8 or $9 million buying food, and we had never spent a penny, really, buying food.
That’s because of increased demand caused by the pandemic?
Do you get money donations?
We do. When you think about our world, we really look for two kinds of donations — really three. Food, but also we look for folks to donate time. An organization like ours will have 50,000 volunteers over the course of a year, and that will be individuals, corporations. And that value to us is huge, because they’re doing work that we don’t have to pay team members for. So that is a terrific savings and it’s a great way for the community to connect into the community. Individuals and corporations always enjoy having the opportunity to be of service. We often jokingly say we want to give someone the best three to four hours of their week when they come in and spend time with us. Because you’re just doing something that’s really not about you; It’s about providing something for someone you don’t know. … And then the last part, of course, we look for financial donations from the community.
How did you get into this line of work?
I’ve been doing this about 20 years now. Prior to that I spent about 20 years in banking and finance and on Wall Street and overseas, and, like others, I felt a different sense of responsibility calling in my world and left the corporate world and have been in the social sector since. … It was a conscious decision to do something different with my life.
For more information, go to feedingtampabay.org.