“We’re thrilled that the Bucs are here providing leadership today, and it's a real special treat for these families that are struggling and that need help,” said Metropolitan Ministries President and COO Tim Marks. “They’re getting an extra blessing today because the Bucs are here.”
With collection and storage assistance from PODS, an official moving and storage provider of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the large volunteer contingent began the morning by unloading cartfuls of canned goods outside Metropolitan Ministries’ holiday tent – a nearly 35,000 square-foot temporary facility erected two blocks from the nonprofit organization’s main campus. After delivering the food to the designated locations, each player, cheerleader, and Women’s Organization volunteer took to the tent’s shopping aisles to assist the Ministries’ clients – pre-registered families who have hit tough times – with picking out necessary food items that will provide a happier and healthier holiday this week.
“The Sack Hunger drive with Raymond James is so critical to the ongoing engagement of the community and education of the community,” added Marks. “Where else can you get an opportunity to speak to 65,000 individuals and share this strong value of giving back? So everybody has that opportunity to give back, and then they hear about it, they give back that day, and hopefully they’ll come back throughout the season to volunteer, to get engaged and make a difference in our community. I believe the Buccaneers make this a greater community because of their leadership, and it’s great to see fans do the same thing.”
That volunteer effort was experienced firsthand by players like Underwood, who, having gone through challenges of his own when he was younger, appreciates the opportunity to lend a hand and make a difference.
“From where I grew up to where I am now, it’s been almost a miracle,” said Underwood. “I know what these families are going through, so to be able to help them is great. It’s a great feeling.”
Metropolitan Ministries is a nonprofit, non-denominational, faith-based organization that provides assistance for poor and homeless families. Serving migrant, urban and suburban communities throughout Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties, the charity focuses on supporting individuals who are unemployed, people who are challenged by disabilities and senior citizens.
At the Ministries’ Hillsborough location alone, nearly 1,000 families will be supported each day this holiday season, a testament to the charity’s continued growth and impact. Metropolitan Ministries offers nearly 3,000 volunteer opportunities throughout Thanksgiving, and with almost every position already filled, there is little doubt about its positive effect on the community.
In fact, having just developed a new complex on its main campus that now provides on-site housing to more than 100 homeless families – more than double the previous number prior to construction – it comes as no surprise that this year’s holiday tent had to be relocated to 400 W. Palm Ave., just down the street from its home in years’ past.
For Watson, a familiar face at just about every Buccaneer volunteer event during the season, the chance to not only support the community but interact with the team’s youngest fans, is one he doesn't take for granted.
“I just want to continue to be there for others,” said Watson. “I think we just need to really set an example for kids like this to make sure that they give back. It starts with a younger generation, so it can continue to build each time we have this.”
Added Underwood: “I’m here with my teammates, and also other people from the community. It’s great to see everybody come together and help as a unit.”