Trinity Cafe: Serving Hot Meals with Love for Tampa's Homeless Community
"Our mission is to restore a sense of dignity to the homeless & hungry while serving a nutritious meal. We faithfully treat all of God’s children with dignity, compassion, love, and respect." ~ Trinity Cafe Mission Statement
One of the benefits of engaging in community service work is that you gain an accurate, in-depth feel for the community in which you live, work and play. By dedicating your time, talent and energy to community service projects, you have the opportunity to help a neighbor with a life challenge. The sense of satisfaction that comes from being a part of brightening a person's day is an experience that can be habit-forming.
As a new Tampa-metro area resident, I set out to learn about and fully experience the community that is now my home. In meeting Mandy Cloninger, Executive Director of the Trinity Café, I learned of the organizations' mission to provide a hot meal, a warm smile, and a sense of community and friendship to neighbors struggling with homelessness and the challenge of having little or no food to eat.
On arriving at the new Busch Avenue Trinity Café location, I was greeted at the door by Byron, one of the cheerful staff managing the lunch event for that day. Byron and I shared stories of how many people are living paycheck-to-paycheck, on the verge of finding themselves without a home and enough to eat, if some unexpected event were to befall them.
As I spoke with Byron, guests engaged in conversation with one another, with some sitting silently or sleeping seated in the chairs that lined the hallway by the dining room.
One elderly gentlemen sat in silence, until he heard me talking about music with another guest. Suddenly, he began to powerfully sing a worship song, catching me by surprise, as he was quite a good singer. In fact, many of the guests having lunch that day had significant musical talent.
"You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have really lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love." ~Henry Drummond, 1851-1897
If you have never been a part of serving a meal to neighbors that have fallen on tough times, you'll likely be surprised at the number and diversity of people that arrive daily for a hot meal in a safe place.
During my visit with Mandy, her staff and a group of employees from a local business served a hot lunch to over 130 people. Men, women and children of all ages congregated around large, round tables to share a meal together.
The lunch menu on the day of my visit consisted of a tossed salad with dressing, baked shrimp, rice, carrots, ice tea or water, with a banana, granola bar, and an assortment of packaged cookies for dessert. Loaves of fresh bread lined a table for guests to take with them after lunch. Many brought bags with them to carry the food that they would likely be eating as dinner later in the day.
"Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition." ~Alexander Smith, 1829-1867
As I helped serve lunch to guests, I met former sales professionals, army and navy veterans, young adults, mom's with young children, elderly men and women, and those appearing to be mentally and physically impaired.
I met a couple of clean-shaven, casually dressed men, who looked out of place among the other guests. I wondered if these men had lost a job or suffered an illness or injury, and with no family or friends to take them in, found themselves without a home and enough to eat?
Regardless of the apparent wealth inherent in any neighborhood, there is usually a degree of homelessness and communities of people that struggle daily with acquiring basic necessities to lead a normal life.
Programs like Trinity Cafe provide food as a basic necessity, so people can focus more of their time and energy working to resolve issues and transition to a more sufficient life.
As guests finished their lunch, volunteer servers bade guests farewell as they filed out of the dining room and exited the building. A man, finishing the last of his lunch, said he was ready for "another serving of the love" which is how he described his lunch experience. For that is what' s served daily at the Trinity Café. Love.
As I exited the Trinity Café's parking lot, I passed people on the street that I had served at lunch. Those I had the chance to serve and talk with were no longer strangers to me-- they were neighbors in the community that I now call home.
Jim Intriglia is an active member of the Rotary Club of Tampa, which supports the work of the Trinity Café through Grants and member volunteer service work.