By LOIS KINDLE
The South Shore community has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of its residents’ lives have changed. Their incomes have fallen or disappeared altogether, and food insecurity has become a reality.
HCC SouthShore wants to help.
Through a partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay and the HCC Foundation, the Ruskin-based campus of Hillsborough Community College at 551 24th St. NE is hosting a weekly Community Drive-Thru Mega Pantry to distribute food to anyone in need on Wednesdays from 4 to 6:30 p.m., now through Dec. 23. The goal is to serve 700 families per week.
“We’re especially pleased and proud to have this opportunity to partner with Feeding Tampa Bay in working to eradicate food insecurity and hunger in our community,” said Jennifer China, PhD, president of the HCC SouthShore campus. “We want to promote health and wellness, which is part of our mission.”
“This is our first major effort with Feeding Tampa Bay in South County,” she said.
Feeding Tampa Bay is equally pleased.
“This is a wonderful collaboration with HCC that began with its Tampa campus in April,” said Shannon Hannon-Oliviero, external affairs officer for Feeding Tampa Bay, a nonprofit organization currently putting two million meals on tables every week in its 10-county service area. “We now have 10 mega pantries serving our 10-county area, and this partnership with the college is helping us better serve the Tampa Bay community.
“No one should worry where their next meal is coming from,” she added. “Food is a basic human need. We’re committed to making certain our neighbors need not worry. It is our privilege to serve the community.”
The HCC Foundation, also a nonprofit organization, works to support the community college’s five campuses, so the mega pantry effort fits nicely into its mission.
It already has Food 2 Finish food pantries on HCC’s Tampa and Brandon campuses, where a large portion of students are food insecure, said Lee Lowry, HCC Foundation’s director of development. Before the pandemic hit, that portion was 30%. Since then, the number of those affected has risen to an estimated 50%, she said.
Emergency relief packs and resources are provided by the foundation to HCC’s other three campuses.
Many South Shore residents have also been hit hard by the pandemic, and that has resulted in a high level of food insecurity throughout the community. The Drive-Thru Mega Pantry at HCC SouthShore was added to address that.
“Feeding Tampa Bay is an amazing organization,” Lowry said. “I am personally and professionally proud the college is involved with it.”
Food recipients need simply to show up for the Community Drive-Thru Mega Pantry, China said. No identification is required. Signs will direct traffic in a circle to HCC SouthShore’s south parking lot and then out of the campus. It will take an estimated 20 seconds for food to be placed in their cars. All CDC guidelines will be followed.
“I would like to invite anyone in the South Shore community to volunteer to help with our distribution,” China said. “If so, they can go to the following link (https://bit.ly/3jtcYTF) and sign up for any week they choose. We would certainly appreciate it.”