Tampa Bay charities, community volunteers jump into action after Hurricane Ian

Across Tampa Bay, a slew of nonprofit organizations and an army of volunteers jumped into action to help in Hurricane Ian recovery efforts. In fact, the response started days before the storm hit. 

In its 10 county service area, regional food bank Feeding Tampa Bay started distributing military-style MREs (meals ready-to-eat) and water to people who planned to shelter in place. 

International nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which has provided meals in the wake of natural disasters since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, set up its large-scale relief operation at Metropolitan Ministries’ commercial kitchen in Tampa, preparing thousands of meals a day to transport by truck, helicopter and plane to residents in the hardest-hit areas.  

Before Ian hit, a partnership of four regional charitable organizations activated the Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund to quickly get funding to nonprofits on the frontline of the storm response. A $100,000 pre-storm distribution to Feeding Tampa Bay helped launch its response effort.  

“We start planning for hurricanes well in advance of them showing up,” says Feeding Tampa Bay President and CEO Thomas Mantz. “We start about 10 days out preparing ourselves and our community.”

Mantz says the organization has a three-phase response to hurricanes. Before landfall, there is the community distribution of MREs and water for people who may lose power and possibly water service during the storm. In the immediate aftermath, there’s a span of three days to a week where food and water distribution continues, with a focus on the hardest hit communities. 

“Post-storm and over the weekend we were doing distributions in all 10 counties we cover, focusing on the southern counties that were hit hardest, making sure people had meals to make it through for days,” Mantz says. 

In Feeding Tampa Bay’s service area, Mantz says “we are focusing most of our attention right now” on Hardee, Highlands, Manatee and southern Polk counties. 

 More long-term, the charity will work to help restock the refrigerators and pantries of families impacted by the storm.

“We have families who lose power and have to throw out the food in their refrigerator and eat through their pantry,” Mantz says. “Many of the folks we serve, most of the folks we serve, don't have the economic wherewithal to rebuild their refrigerator or pantry, so we help do that.” 

Metropolitan Ministries Vice President of Marketing Justine Burke says when World Central Kitchen needed a partner relief kitchen to for its storm response, the charity’s Tampa facility was a perfect match.

“They mobilize chefs from all over the place and they need a kitchen to cook thousands and thousands of meals in,” Burke says. “We have power and we have a very large commercial kitchen that can produce 10,000 meals a day.”

Shifting to “full disaster recovery mode” last Thursday, Burke says Metropolitan Ministries opened all of its family support centers and enlisted about 220 volunteers a day over the weekend.

“We have been cooking with World Central Kitchen before, during and after the storm,” Burke says in an email Monday. “We loaded trucks, vans and cars with food for our neighbors to the south. We also made numerous airport runs to fly food to Pine Island and Punta Gorda. About 60,000 meals came out of our kitchen. We went through 11 pallets of food and over 600 sandwiches this weekend and 1,000 meals were brought into local neighborhoods impacted by power loss. Our family support center had a line out to the parking lot this morning with families in need.”

Burke says after a week at Metropolitan Ministries, World Central Kitchen is now shifting its operation farther south. Locally, she says Metropolitan Ministries will now shift its focus to more long-term recovery efforts, particularly for families that were struggling before the storm.

“The people we help are already struggling before a disaster hits,” Burke says. “They don’t have insurance. They don't have the means to run out and buy a bunch of groceries to prepare for a hurricane. We see a lot of those local families who are already struggling living paycheck to paycheck.”

She also expects Metropolitan Ministries will see increased community need from southwest Florida residents displaced by Ian who relocate to the Tampa Bay area. 

“We’re preparing for that,” Burke says.

Burke and Mantz both said community volunteers were invaluable to their organizations’ response efforts.

“We have had an outpouring of volunteers,” Burke says. “We have had an outpouring of donors.”

“That’s one of the nice things about any sort of challenge a community faces is we see a lot of folks that want to step in because we have a lot of extra work both in food distributions and in packing boxes of food,” Mantz says. “It’s been terrific for us to have the volunteers right now. Everybody wants to dive in and help.”

For more information on ways to volunteer or donate and food resources available in your area go to Feeding Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Ministries.

Charity foundations activate relief funds 

The charitable organizations behind the Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund and the Community Foundation Tampa Bay both activated relief funds in response to Ian to get money in the hands of nonprofits on the frontline of relief and recovery efforts.

Launched during the COVID pandemic, the Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund is a collaboration of four regional charities - the Pinellas Community Foundation, Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and United Way Suncoast - that is administered by the Pinellas Community Foundation.

“At the moment, the funds will go to those providing immediate relief, food, water, things of that nature,” Pinellas Community Foundation CEO Duggan Cooley says. “As we continue to look at what the impacts were around Tampa Bay, we will find other ways to support  organizations that are doing good work to help our residents.”

Cooley says the needed financial support started to flow before Ian hit with a $100,000 contribution to Feeding Tampa Bay.

“We knew that they were staging resources throughout the region to make sure that they could respond with food support through their network, so we made sure they had money available ahead of time,” he says. “Now we’re in the process of reviewing other needs the community is having now and responding to that as well.”

Cooley says the partner organizations have not yet determined how long the resiliency fund will remain active.

“I don’t know at the moment because after we figure out exactly what has happened in Tampa Bay, I think a lot of effort is going to focus south of here,” he says. “We are not going to want to compete with that or draw attention away from that because the damage is far more severe south of here.”

Cooley says the Tampa Bay area nonprofits behind the resiliency fund might instead use their connections and networks farther south on the Gulf Coast to point interested donors to agencies and organizations in that area “so people can find trusted ways to give support to the hardest hit areas.”

For more information go to Tampa Bay Resiliency Fund.

Community Foundation Tampa Bay activates rapid response fund

Following Ian, the Community Foundation Tampa Bay and its community partners activated the Tampa Bay Rapid Response Fund to focus donations directly on immediate response efforts of local nonprofits. The Community Foundation Tampa Bay has also updated its critical needs list criteria to include recovery efforts. Nonprofits will be able to submit Ian-related needs to that list through the end of October.

Working with partner community foundation organizations in the hardest-hit areas of the state,   Community Foundation Tampa Bay has also identified organizations in southwest and central Florida that have established relief funds:
Volunteer Florida/Florida Disaster Fund

Volunteer Florida, the state’s agency for volunteerism and service work, has volunteer opportunities available to help with recovery efforts. The organization is also seeking donations to the Florida Disaster Fund, the post-disaster relief fund managed by the Volunteer Florida Foundation. 

For more information go to Volunteer Florida.

United Way Suncoast

United Way Suncoast is seeking donations for its Disaster Recovery Fund. Contributions can be made online or by texting DISASTER to 844-701-5181. Those impacted by the storm seeking assistance should call 211 to be connected to available resources.

The United Way Suncoast encourages those seeking to donate food or household items to the community as quickly as possible to contact Feeding Tampa Bay, All Faiths Food Bank, Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee County or other local food banks. Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County is asking for donations of tarps and fasteners and Habitat for Humanity of DeSoto County is accepting all donations. United Way Suncoast is also working to coordinate and organize volunteer efforts. 

For more information and updates go to United Way Suncoast Disaster Recovery.

Florida DEO damage assessment

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has launched a damage assessment survey for businesses impacted by Hurricane Ian to help guide federal, state and local relief and assistance.

For more information and the survey go to Business Damage Assessment Survey.

Small business assistance 

Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County disaster recovery specialists are available to provide confidential, no-cost consulting to help affected businesses prepare disaster loan applications and assist other post-disaster challenges. The disaster specialists work with  Small Business Administration loan specialists to provide information about available resources and assist businesses in completing state and federal disaster loan applications.  

For more information go to Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County or call (813) 204-9267  on weekdays between 8 a.m and 5 p.m. 

Local SBA recovery center

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has opened a business recovery center to provide one-on-one assistance with submitting a disaster loan application for Florida businesses impacted by Hurricane Ian.

SBA representatives will be available to answer questions about the disaster loan program and assist business owners in completing their applications.  

The Hillsborough County SBA business recovery center is located at the Chloe Coney Urban Enterprise Center, 1907 E. Hillsborough Ave. in Tampa. It is open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and closed on Sunday. 
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.