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Feeding Tampa Bay Denied State Funding, Prepares For Increase In Demand

People load food into a white SUV. Stacks of boxes are in the foreground, a semi-trailer is in the background.
Feeding Tampa Bay
Pallets of boxes of food are in a parking lot being unloaded off of a truck by Feeding Tampa Bay staff.

Feeding Tampa Bay asked the state for $400,000 for a workforce training program. It ended up on the list of budget vetoes.

Proposed funding from the state budget for a local workforce development was vetoed by Gov. DeSantis, the latest challenge Feeding Tampa Bay faces as it prepares for a possible increase in demand for services.

Feeding Tampa Bay sought $400,000 from the state for its FRESHforce program.

Instead, it ended up among the dozens of programs vetoed by DeSantis, who signed the $101.5 billion 2021-22 budget Wednesday.

Officials with the Tampa-based nonprofit say the FRESHforce program is a 10- to 12-week workforce development program designed to provide training and certification to people in one of three areas: culinary, warehouse or transportation work.

Such certifications can help them find work as commercial drivers, in local warehouses, or in the tourism or entertainment industry.

“When someone comes to you for a meal, they've got other economic challenges in their lives,” said Thomas Mantz, president and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay. “And one of our fundamental precepts is how do we take someone that comes in for a meal, how do they walk out with a future?”

Individuals are interviewed about their potential interests and past experience to determine what area of training may be best for them.

Although their backgrounds may be different, Mantz said most participants have faced challenges finding employment.

“Our goal with the program really is to find a pathway for folks who otherwise don't have a traditional method of getting a job,” said Mantz. “So we do look for people that have, as we would like to say, maybe ‘scuffs on their resume’ or ‘scuffs on their lives,’ and try and create a good system that they can come through to find a job that they might not otherwise have.”

The $400,000 Feeding Tampa Bay requested would have allowed more people to take part and be paid while receiving training.

“We're asking for 10 to 12 weeks of their lives, so we make sure that they can stay economically stable during that training process,” said Mantz.

“Why we asked the state to consider funding us in their budget? We think that this is an important state, county and city imperative as well. We also think the best programs are built collaboratively.”

In the previous fiscal year, Feeding Tampa Bay unsuccessfully requested $255,000 from the state to fund the FRESHforce program. Mantz said the organization sought more in the next budget to expand its class size.

He added that Feeding Tampa Bay will continue to run the program through funding from private donors.

“This is a critically important program in our community, and we think folks understand that. We think folks understand that providing jobs is a good and smart thing to do,” said Mantz.

Mantz said that the organization is also preparing for a potential increase in need for services -- including food, career and financial assistance -- as COVID-related aid begins to end.

That aid includes the $300 weekly federal unemployment payments that the state is ending June 26, ahead of its scheduled national expiration in September.

When the pandemic first began, the demand for Feeding Tampa Bay’s services was up 400% at its peak, according to Mantz. Although it’s since decreased, demand is still 40% higher than it was prior to the pandemic.

Mantz expects that need to remain around that level for at least another year.

“We have to gear up for more services. Families need income and resources, they need capability; and part of what we're designed to do and prepared to do is to step into those gaps and make sure that families have what they need,” said Mantz.

Jorgelina Manna-Rea is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second straight semester with WUSF.
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