When it comes to Feeding Tampa Bay's headquarters and food distribution facility, bigger is better.
The regional food bank has started construction on a spacious new facility that will expand the organization’s footprint and its community impact. Slated to open in Spring 2024, the 217,000-square-foot complex will have significantly more warehouse space and perishable food storage space than the current 80,000-square-foot leased facility, allowing Feeding Tampa Bay to get more food, and more fresh, nutritious food, to more people.
The expansion is needed. Already operating beyond building capacity, Feeding Tampa Bay uses semi-truck trailers for extra storage space and has to turn away donations of fresh produce at times during the year because there is no storage space.
“We long ago met our ceiling, both literally and proverbially,” says Feeding Tampa Bay President and CEO Thomas Mantz.
Feeding Tampa Bay which partners with more than 400 local food pantries and groups in a 10-county region, expects to expand its annual food distribution from 95 million meals to 150 million after the new facility is up and running. The nonprofit organization also sees the expansion project as a way to expand its impact on people’s lives beyond food delivery..
“We will be able to provide more fresh foods, produce, vegetables and prepared foods we don’t have storage for today,” Mantz says. “But the other part, which is most important to us, is this will allow us to build a much greater network of partnerships and resources around someone who needs food. When someone comes to you for a meal, they aren’t just experiencing food insecurity, they’re experiencing several household challenges. But they’re coming to you for food. Any good long-term solution takes that moment and says, okay, what else do you need and what can we help you with? That might mean multiple other partners on our campus who could provide other services, housing support, veterans support, mental health support, medical support. We’re not going to do any of those things because that’s now in our capability. But we’ll make the facilities available for those things to happen.”
In addition to other social service agencies and community organizations, BayCare will continue to have a presence, offering health evaluations, educational materials and other resources. With more space, Feeding Tampa Bay also plans to grow its FRESHforce program, which leverages staff’s experience and expertise to offer culinary skills, warehouse logistics and CDL training. Mantz says the FRESHforce could expand from the current 100 to 125 graduates a year to the 500 to 600 range.
The Trinity Cafe and Publix community market will continue to serve the community at the new building.
In terms of increasing food distribution capabilities, Mantz says right now 70 percent of the food bank’s donations are perishable food, which only 14 percent of the storage space can accommodate. The new headquarters on Causeway Boulevard will have 41,000 square feet of cold storage space and an 11,000- square- foot kitchen, allowing Feeding Tampa Bay to prepare more fresh and hot meals and provide twice the amount of produce and fresh foods.
The large kitchen facility will also give the space and equipment to accept more food donations from restaurants, a link in the food industry chain Feeding Tampa Bay has missed out on before.
“For a grocery store, it’s far easier because they have the wherewithal to donate it and we have the wherewithal to collect it,” Mantz says. “Same thing with farmers, warehouses, manufacturers. The one place we have not been able to move into until now is restaurant food. But there is an excess of food in some of those places if we have a kitchen with gloved and masked people who can handle it. This new kitchen can take in more restaurant food to turn into take-home meals or even sit-down meals.”
The food industry has long been a key source of the donated foods Feeding Tampa Bay distributes through the region.
“Whether you’re a farmer growing food, a retailer selling food or a restauranter preparing food, everybody wants the food that they have to go to someone who needs those products or services,” Mantz says.
But the industry has also stepped up to contribute to a capital campaign that has so far raised approximately $53.5 million of a $60 million goal. In a video interview on the Feeding Tampa Bay website, Steve Westphal, owner of The Island Grille and Raw Bar in Tierra Verde, shares his reasons for contributing, including donations toward the culinary training program.
“In our restaurants, what’s become our mantra is if you come and eat here, you give us the ability to feed another,” he says. “We want to be a part of the entire community. It’s not just being part of this restaurant, it’s what this restaurant can be part of.”
Mantz says families, foundations, philanthropists, corporations, community organizations and local governments like Tampa and Hillsborough County have contributed to the new facility. That widespread financial support speaks to how important the project is he says.
“What our board, our organization and I feel strongly about is that an awful lot of people in our community are struggling,” Mantz says. “We have this story sometimes in an abstract way but the reality is an awful lot of people, are struggling to make ends meet. It is our belief that someone has to step up and do more. We’re of the belief it is our opportunity but also our responsibility.”
For more information, go to Feeding Tampa Bay