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The biggest needs in the Tampa Bay area from rental assistance to food to holiday help

With an affordable housing crisis reaching an all-time high across the region, non-profits are seeing an overwhelming need from people trying to make rent.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — You might have spent some of your Giving Tuesday deleting e-mails from organizations, schools, hospitals, and charitable groups asking you to donate.

We feel your pain. Of course, you can't donate to all of them but you want to do something. So, where do you start?

Giving back can be overwhelming. Deciding where and how your donation gets used the way you intend can be a lot to figure out.

We did some of the research for you and we started with the people on the front lines.

Stan Arthur is the founder of the I Love St. Pete Facebook group. He created the group in 2009 in hopes more people would come to watch his band.

Within six years, they had 5,000 members. Today, that number has grown to 87,000 members. 

Nobody came out to support his band, but the group did offer recommendations and tips, while members shared events and information about their city.

But in the Spring of 2020, as the COVID pandemic hit, this Facebook group turned into a lifeline for people in need. Arthur agreed to post about a friend who needed a car to make deliveries after she lost her other job.

"I said what the heck? Times are different. Times are tough. Let’s see what happens? Within five days, we raised $3,000 just from the group members," Arthur said. 

From there, the donations never stopped. Arthur launched a new website, helpstpete.org, where people can request help.

No red tape, no employees, just people helping people.

Since 2020, the group has raised $100,000 for other members in need.

"We’re able to give them a gift from the fund that would maybe get their water or power turned back on, stop their car from being repossessed, or pay that month’s rent," Arthur explained. He added that most requests come from single moms.

However, the biggest need is rental assistance.

Jamie Orock is a single mom of three. After getting COVID in the summer of 2021 and being sick for a month, she left her job and went back to school.

Money was tight and she couldn't pay her bills. Eventually, her water was turned off and the Facebook group helped her immediately.

"I hate to ask for help," Orock said.

The group got her the $148 needed to turn her water back on. She donates to other members when she can. That's just how it works.

Large-scale charities are also feeling the strain of the pandemic.

Spokespeople with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Ministries said the greatest need right now is rental assistance and affordable housing.

"Now, we’re seeing that rent assistance and people looking for housing they can afford is the number one need why people are coming through the door," said Justine Burke with Metropolitan Ministries.

Food insecurity used to be the number one issue facing people in the Tampa Bay area, but this year it's rental assistance followed by food.

HOW TO HELP: Metropolitan Ministries holiday campaign

"It’s definitely not better than a year ago," Burke said.

Charities still need toys and food for families who have just enough money to keep the roof over their heads. That leaves nothing extra for holiday celebrations.

"We still need the food and toys donated because there’s the supply chain shortages. We are seeing that as well. We are not able to buy in bulk as easily as we could in the past," Burke said.

More ways you can help:

Monetary donations

Volunteer your time

If you are in need, visit the following organizations to learn where you can find help: