TAMPA, Fla. — COVID-19 has changed everything this year. It's changed how kids go to school, how we get takeout, how we conduct work meetings and now how we celebrate our holidays best known for gathering with family and friends.
So many families have been financially impacted by the virus. Thousands of families across Tampa Bay are struggling to put a meal on the table for Thanksgiving and will struggle to get gifts for their children this holiday season.
"It's really been an unprecedented season for all of us. We've been distributing food boxes in our parking lot for the last 36 weeks. Over 56,000 boxes of food and over $2 million paid directly to landlords and utility companies to keep people in their homes," said Tim Marks, President and CEO of Metropolitan Ministries.
In any given year Metro Ministries helps feed about 25,000 families in need across Tampa Bay around Thanksgiving. This year, the pandemic has the group planning to serve about 50,000 people.
Since the onset of COVID-19, about 40 percent of those seeking assistance from Metro Ministries are doing so for the first time.
In some parts of our region, the number is even higher.
“In Pinellas County alone, the number was like 65 percent of the people who signed up in Pinellas were first-time folks needing help this holiday season,” said Marks.
And just as the need increases, COVID-19 has put up roadblocks.
Some food items have been harder to buy in bulk because they’re in short supply. Volunteers are tougher to come by as corporations and church groups scale back because of health and safety concerns.
So, the organization is turning to the community to help them fill in the gaps. More donations than ever will be needed this year as Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa approach. Holiday meal items and toys will be needed. Teens are often forgotten and harder to buy for, so the organization is asking people to consider gift cards as well.
If you're a family that needs help, Marks says don't be afraid to ask for it.
"Life happens beyond just COVID. Other financial crisis, loss of income, loss of jobs, health issues, they all just pile on. They need to know the community hasn't forgotten about them."
You can learn more about donating or registering for holiday assistance here.
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