BRANDON — On a freezing night in Central Florida, a new pair of socks and a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate sometimes can make all the difference to a homeless person or indigent family seeking shelter.
Hillsborough County and nonprofit agencies open their doors in various locations to offer a warm bed when the thermometer is expected to drop to 32 degrees or below. But volunteers manning the shelters say they would like to be able to offer that extra touch of comfort when that time comes.
“Gloves, hats, scarves and socks are some of the things they ask for,” said Marty Bradley, volunteer coordinator for the Brandon Community Center, where 91 people sought refuge from the cold through November.
“My seniors have been just marvelous when they travel, bringing back little soaps and shampoos, things people can stick in their backpacks,” she said. “And sometimes we take in families who aren’t homeless but may not have heat in their homes. It’s nice to have coffee, lemonade mix, tea bags and instant oatmeal for them.”
The group is in perpetual need of volunteers, said Eleanor Saunders, who helps coordinate the Brandon shelter.
“We always need volunteers because we open at 6 p.m. and stay open til 7 a.m. Everybody loves the 6 to 10 p.m. shift, but that 1 to 4 a.m. shift, that shift in the middle of the night, is really hard to fill. We always have two men and two women on duty.
“Some random guardian angel walked in with 1,000 pairs of socks this year, so we don’t need those, but people coming for shelter are always asking for underwear. And we always need long-sleeved shirts for men and women in the larger sizes because they like to layer when it’s cold,” she said.
Donations can be dropped off at Bay Life Church, 1017 N. Kingsway Road, Brandon, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday or 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays.
To volunteer, call Saunders at (813) 661-3696, Ext. 228, or email her at [email protected]
At the Wimauma Civic Center, shelter coordinator Joy Robinson said she is looking for a group willing to provide hot meals when the cold-weather shelter opens there. The center served 25 people from January to November.
“For us, too, it’s homeless people or people living in trailers with no heat” who show up for the night, she said. “The main thing we need is coffee and paper supplies, hot chocolate, non-dairy creamer and cups. We could also use new blankets. Our blankets are just deteriorating. We could use 10 new ones.”
Robinson can be reached at (813) 944- 9209, or donations can be dropped off at 901 Sixth St. S.E., Ruskin, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Salvation Army shelters don’t offer coffee but do hand out toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and soap in small containers, as well as disposable razors, said Alan Lowery. He said those donations are always welcome.
At Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa, the top priority is getting people out of the elements, said Gwen Harmon, associate director for community and media relations.
Metropolitan doesn’t provide shelter, but it gives out vouchers for hotel rooms on cold nights.
“We always try to get donations to help supplement those,” she said. “We also accept donations of gloves, caps, coats, sweaters and socks. Men really, really are always asking for socks. Some families request blankets. A lot of times people come to the shelters just because they are trying to conserve energy bills.”
Donations to Metropolitan Ministries can be made at www.metromin .org or at the holiday tent at 400 W. Palm Ave., Tampa, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and on Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. Checks can be mailed to Metropolitan Ministries at 165 Frances Ave., Tampa FL 33602.
For shelter locations, contact the Salvation Army at (813) 221-4440 or go to www.Hillsborough County.org.