NORTH TAMPA — GMA Dove Award winner Leonardo Villanueva credits “good, compassionate friends” for making his dream of a benefit concert for Trinity Cafe 2, which opened Monday on East Busch Boulevard, a reality.
The benefit concert will be April 23 at 7 p.m. at First United Methodist Church of Lutz. Villanueva hopes to raise awareness of the cafe and financial need of its newest second location, housed in First Church of God in North Tampa.
Since 2001, the inaugural Trinity Cafe has served more than 1.1 million restaurant quality meals to hungry and homeless men, women and children.
The new cafe is expected to feed between 200 and 300 people on a daily basis.
Villanueva has firsthand experience how each guest is treated with dignity and respect at Trinity Cafe. He did an undercover exploration of homelessness in Tampa, living on the streets for a week in 2009 and documenting his experience in a series of video blogs called “Leo the Homeless Man.”
The kindness of Trinity Cafe volunteers so touched him that he maintained a special relationship with the cafe, volunteering only weeks after his true identity was revealed.
“My eyes were opened and I got to see the other side of people who don’t have the means to support themselves,” Villanueva said. “I learned what the challenges are. People say ‘hey get a job, bum’ but it’s not that easy.
“It’s kind of a cycle because what telephone number are you going to fill in when you don’t have an address? Experiencing homelessness gave me a better appreciation of my own life, an appreciation of as little or as much as God gives you. God has blessed me with this life. How can I pass it on to give to others? Pay it forward.”
Soon after his undercover experience, Villanueva hosted his first fundraising concert for Trinity Cafe.
Ellen Wolf was in the audience that night and had never heard of the cafe that nourishes and nurtures the needy in the community. She became a volunteer, a donor and a good friend to Villanueva.
“From the concert, Ellen caught the vision of Trinity Cafe and she started volunteering every Friday. Not only that, she got so involved that she is now on the board of the new place,” he said. “Our goal with this concert is not only financial, but we hope people get excited and want to volunteer, continue giving as a donor and learn more about the mission of Trinity Cafe.”
When Villanueva learned that Trinity Cafe was expanding and needed financial assistance to accomplish the mission, he and Wolf volunteered to put on a free high energy benefit concert and Villanueva reached out to his talented friends and students.
The concert features Villanueva, international concert pianist Cliff Longcoy and vocalist Scott Reynolds.
Opening the concert is a talented group of 20 middle school and high school dancers from SWAG — Student Worship Arts Academy — performing routines to modern music.
“SWAG is going to rock the house, opening our concert,” he said of the children’s nonprofit he co-founded.
As a charity with limited funds, Trinity Cafe depends on the generosity of the community to make a difference in the lives of those in need. In-kind donations of food and supplies are always needed. Villanueva and friends hope benefit guests will open their hearts and checkbooks come donation collection time.
“First Methodist has been a gracious sponsor and host. This will be a fun concert, entertaining and not stuffy,” he said. “It’s for all ages — young and old. I hope people come with an open heart, open mind and generous hands.”
Trinity Cafe 2 is located in First Church of God, 2202 E. Busch Blvd. For more information, visit www.trinitycafe.org.