Hundreds of families in the Gibsonton area will enjoy a Christmas dinner this week, thanks to the Mosaic Company and the Tampa Bay branch of Feeding America.
“Some of the students would not have a holiday meal if it were not for this program,” said Amber Statham, principal of Gibsonton Elementary where the meals were distributed. Almost all students at the school, 95 percent, are on free or reduced lunches, Statham said.
Now in its fourth year, the Christmas meal program costs Mosaic $15,000 and saw 750 students receive a bag of holiday staples as they left for the day Dec. 17. The bright red bags included all the makings for a holiday dinner: ham, roast beef, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, sweet potatoes, stuffing and gravy.
“Many of our parents find themselves in a situation out of their control where they want to do so much more for their children but they can’t,” Statham said. “The children sometimes come in hungry, needing things like jackets and shoes. They need their basic needs met. So these types of donations from Kiwanis, Feeding America or Mosaic really help us out.”
In addition, Mosaic, one of the world’s largest fertilizer companies with operations in Riverview and southeastern Hillsborough County, funds a $30,000 program through the Greater Brandon Kiwanis Club that provides weekly meal baskets to 170 children every week at the school.
“There’s a great need for this, especially around the holidays when families are stressed for money,” said Mike Daigle, Mosaic’s senior director of business development, who helped coordinate distribution of the holiday food bags at the school. “Every week is a challenge for those families who are working for minimum wage, so that’s why we are here.”
Poverty among her students has increased during her five years as principal at Gibsonton, Statham said. Upon returning to Gibsonton Elementary — Statham had previously been principal in 2004 before leaving for a job at the school district — “I found there was a lot more poverty and needy families. A lot of our parents have part-time jobs or they have small children at home [so] one parent needs to stay home. If they are a single parent, they are unable to work. We also have the working poor where both parents are working for minimum wage, but that still doesn’t make ends meet with three or four children at home.”
Teaching at Gibsonton requires a special kind of teacher and staff, Statham said. “There are lots of great teachers out there, but when I am looking for a teacher, I am looking for someone empathetic, who understands not every child is going to be able to do their homework. Not every child’s mother or father is going to be available for that parent-teacher phone call. If the child said they didn’t have a pencil at home, they probably didn’t,” Statham said. “I have the best staff in the world here.”
Feeding Tampa Bay is the largest food rescue and distribution organization in the Bay area and serves as the main supplier for local food banks. The organization serves more than 700,000 people in a 10-county area, up from 400,000 just five years ago, according to Feeding Tampa Bay’s Jayci Peters, the group’s communications manager, who was on hand for the event.
“Our numbers continue to grow,” Peters said. “There’s a perception [that] the economy is getting better but it isn’t for everyone.”
Gibsonton students need sweaters and jackets — many do not have cold-weather clothes for the sometimes chilly winter mornings — as well as a need for shoes and socks, Statham said.
For more information about Gibsonton Elementary or to help the school by donating or volunteering, call 813-671-5100.