A plateful of chicken sausage, mixed vegetables, pasta, bread and a piece of chocolate or glazed donut greeted each of the roughly 335 people lined up for dinner at the Pinellas Safe Harbor homeless shelter Thursday.
The food was good and the bread soft, said two recipients of the meal, Dave Springer and Randy Cofranceseo.
The food was the first to be served at the facility by Metropolitan Ministries, a Tampa faith-based non-profit which has partnered with , the Clearwater homeless shelter, to provide dinner there every Wednesday through Sunday night.
The partnership will save the shelter an estimated $300,000 each year, according to Bob Gualtieri, chief deputy at the , which sponsored the event.
With the money that Safe Harbor will save on food, it plans to expand its efforts to “help transfer people from the homeless population to being productive members of society,” Gualtieri said.
“This is the start of a beautiful relationship,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who has made advocating for the homeless one of his chief talking points.
Foster has earned the respect of some area homeless from his advocacy efforts.
"I shook mayor Bill Foster's hand on the way into Safe Harbor and I hope to shake it on the way out." said Ted Brown, who stays at the homeless shelter.
While the partnership is Metropolitan Ministries’ largest, it is by no means its first.
The organization has worked with 37 other Tampa Bay area groups over the past decade to help the needy with food and other basic requirements.
It plans to assign about a dozen workers to each dinner at Safe Harbor, with eight people preparing food and another two to four who serve the food and socialize, said Scott Bedrosian, senior director of Metropolitan Ministries.
People who volunteer for the ministry are free to share their personal, Christian experience with charity recipients, perhaps offering a short prayer time before meals.
But the organization does not require people at the shelter to sit through a service, as do some other programs.
From a sheriff’s point of view, Safe Harbor has already achieved one quantifiable success, Gualtieri said at a press conference just before mealtime - ordinance violations.
Gualtieri noted that Safe Harbor has helped reduce public urination and trespassing crimes by 49.5 percent.
The decrease is due to Safe Harbor’s work to help people out of the situations that foster those types of violations, he said.
Those who want to help Metropolitan Ministries can visit metromin.org to donate food or money or to volunteer.