For Good: Trinity Cafe engages community to feed hungry

His work in developmental communication and passion for visual arts has taken University of Tampa Professor Tim Kennedy all over the world.

He spent 11 years in Alaska honing his skills between remote Eskimo villages and the government using videography. And as a Fulbright Scholar, he took this same work – which he calls the Sky River Project – to the Fiji Islands.

Now he’s putting his talents to work in his own backyard of Tampa in a fundraising event for Trinity Café, a nondenominational charity for the hungry and homeless in the Tampa Bay area since 2001.
For the last several months, Kennedy and his Canon 5D Mark II have been a regular at the Sunday morning breakfast at the café, which provides free restaurant quality meals seven days a week at its facility at 2801 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa. His mission: To take portraits of the people who come here for a free meal, served by volunteers on tables set with cloth and china.

“The range in the people who come there really surprised me,” Kennedy says. “You have a stereotype of what poverty looks like, and it’s not always right. One guy looked like an Aztec prince, another one like Clint Eastwood. I met people wearing sopping wet flip-flops and old T-shirts and another who looked like he stepped out of a GQ magazine. It was a fascinating experience.”

The subjects were chosen by Sunday volunteer coordinator Wendy Malloy, a manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who would approach them and ask if they would participate. Some didn’t want their images taken; others were thrilled to be part of the project. Those who agreed for a portrait sitting also gave Malloy a short interview, so a few lines about their personal lives will accompany each photo.

Dental issues make it hard to smile

Kennedy says he never made any special requests for the portraits. He wanted them as natural as possible, taking several photos to get them relaxed. Though he has a very diverse collection, there was one common thread among them.

“No one really wanted their teeth shown,” he says. “They were all self-conscious about it. I understood completely, since I got scurvy when I lived in the Arctic, and lost my uppers. If you don’t have the means to get your teeth fixed, you don’t feel like smiling with your mouth open.”
Kennedy, who volunteered his time, says he could not have taken on a project of this magnitude without the collaboration of fellow UT colleague Stephen Crompton, a media production coordinator who also teaches courses in digital photography. He assisted on the Sunday morning portrait sessions and “in every aspect” of the digital post-production, including converting the color photos into black-and-white images on Cross Museo ink jet paper. Crompton is currently working on finding the best possible way to display the images at the fundraiser.

These arresting portraits – 24 in all – will be displayed at the “Feast for the Eyes: The Faces of a Million Meals” reception from 6-10 p.m. on March 13 at District 3 Arts & Events, 802 E. Whiting St., Tampa. The cost is $50 in advance, and will include live music, appetizers, beer and wine, and a silent auction. All of the proceeds will benefit the food program at the café, which depends on donations, grants and an army of volunteers to order to stay in operation.

Cindy Davis, Trinity Café’s program director, is hoping that the exhibit will do what it did for Kennedy: Alter the perspective of what the hungry and homeless look like.
“They look like you and me,” she says. “We treat them with dignity and compassion here, in a setting where they are given unconditional love and support. We aren’t here to judge.”

Meals from the heart

The kitchen’s executive chef is the Austrian-born Alfred Astl, whose experience includes stints at high-end restaurants from Colorado to New York. His culinary prowess at Trinity has become legendary on the streets of Tampa for creating quality and nutritious five-course meals under $2.50 each, getting the most out of the donated dollars.
He’s been at the helm in the kitchen for 13 years, leading an operation that now serves about 280 meals daily. On Jan. 19, the café reached a milestone when a patron ate the 1 millionth meal served at the nonprofit.

Trinity Café’s contribution to the community is needed more than ever. According to the U.S. Census Poverty in the United States study, the number of Americans who are “food insecure” or at risk of hunger is growing to new levels. In Hillsborough County alone, some 36,000-plus families have been identified with not enough to eat every day. They are faced with the decision whether to purchase food or pay a bill.

Kennedy says he saw a lot of the same faces, week after week. Some said they were in between construction work or day-labor jobs; others likely were longtime street residents, unable to break the cycle of poverty. He met single parents and families with multiple children, and people who spun creative tales about their past lives.

He says these portraits will humanize the people who are often forgotten, neglected or even scorned.
“There’s a story behind every one of the people who walk through the doors at Trinity Café,” Kennedy says. “If we took the time to listen to some of them, we might have more compassion. I hope this project inspires that.”

Read more articles by Michelle Bearden.

Michelle Bearden is a multimedia journalist and public speaker with extensive experience in print and broadcast media. She placed second in the nation behind a writer from Time magazine in the 2014 Religion Newswriters Association Supple Feature Religion Writer of the Year. Her “Keeping the Faith” segment on WFLA-TV was the country’s longest-running segment on faith and values among local affiliates. She’s a graduate of Central Michigan University, which inducted her in the school’s Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for her pioneer work in media convergence and investigative religion reporting. Michelle has won multiple awards for her work, including first-place honors in 2014 for column writing from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors and beat reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. She is also a two-time winner of the Supple Religion Reporter of the Year from the national Religion Newswriters Association. Michelle’s home and yard in the Ballast Point neighborhood in south Tampa are legendary for big gatherings and dinner parties. She finally realized her dream of getting a horse, and now has two Rocky Mountain mares, which she trail rides and trains every chance she gets. And she is a die-hard Tampa Bay Rays fan.