NORTH TAMPA — It’s been said the best display of kindliness begins with a warm welcome and the offer of a home-cooked meal.
Albeit on a much larger scale, that is the mission of the Trinity Cafe, a nonprofit organization that opened in 2001 at 2801 N. Nebraska Ave. Through the generosity of donors, it has served more than 1 million meals to the area’s hungry and the homeless.
All “guests” are welcomed without questions or qualifications and treated with compassion, love and respect. Community volunteers seat them at cloth-covered tables and serve all who come a three-course luncheon every weekday.
The meals are prepared by executive chef Jim Rice, who presently prepares about 300 meals per day.
Thanks to a $65,000 contribution from Hillsborough County and a Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Award grant of $200,000, Trinity Cafe is preparing to launch Trinity Cafe 2 on March 28 at the First Church of God at 2202 E. Busch Blvd. in North Tampa.
The food will be prepared at the North Nebraska Avenue site and transported to the new café, which will be open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is expected to draw between 200 and 300 guests daily.
To support the effort, some kitchen improvements will be made, and one part-time kitchen aide and a part-time volunteer coordinator will be added to the organization’s small staff.
Statistics undeniably spell out the need, said Mandelyn “Mandy” Cloninger, who came on board in May 2015 as Trinity Cafe’s first executive director.
Approximately 2,000 people in Tampa are homeless and more than 200,000 struggle with hunger and food insecurity. One in four of them are children.
“Hunger is not an unsolvable problem, but it takes a lot of help to solve the problem,” said Cloninger, whose expertise includes more than a decade’s worth of experience in raising funds for Metropolitan Ministries, Tampa General Hospital Foundation and the University of South Florida.
In North Tampa alone, the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger estimates there are more than 3 million people who go without regular meals.
“We wouldn’t be able to address the needs of that community without the generous support we receive,” Cloninger said. “We’re doubling the opportunity for the impact we presently have.”
Volunteers who set up the dining room, host, serve tables and clean up play a major role in the café’s day-to-day operation. Last year alone, 10,785 non-paid helpers saved the organization nearly $600,000 in labor costs, according to program director Cindy Davis.
“They share our vision that no man, woman or child should go hungry,” Davis said.
For information, visit www.trinitycafe.org or call Cloninger at (813) 865-4806, or Davis at (813) 865-4822.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]