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Monday, May 20, 2019
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Hooper: 'Hope sightings' replenish Metropolitan Ministries' holiday effort

TAMPA - They call them "hope sightings."

It's a moment where someone is offering hope to others. A volunteer going above and beyond, a client sharing comfort with another, a donor who shows up at just the right moment. Love illustrated by action.

"This ministry was started out of love and compassion and built on faith in the community," said Rev. Beth Bostrom, director of spiritual formation. "Together, we provide hope for each other."

At Wednesday morning's blessing of MetMin's holiday tent on Governor Street, just west of Cass Street and Nebraska Avenue, they celebrated the hope sightings and prepared to distribute an estimated 10,000 Thanksgiving meals.

It's challenging work for the staff and volunteers. They find motivation in their hearts, but it never hurts to have that motivation refueled by a hope sighting.

Consider the call they received Wednesday morning. A home-bound woman named Patricia reached out to ask if she could donate 30 turkeys and 30 boxes of stuffing.

She asked, "If I make this purchase, can someone go and pick it up?"

It's these serendipitous occurrences where the community creates the miracle that inspires.

"I know this is what keeps the staff going, these moments that are really the most meaningful," said MetMin vice president of marketing Justine Burke, who admits to tearing up during the nonprofit's season of giving.

During the ceremony, the organizers looked back on the humble beginnings of the holiday giving. Palma Ceia Presbyterian senior pastor John DeBevoise told how they started in a house adjacent to the Florida Avenue campus, handing out brown shopping bags of food in 1982.

In the first year, they distributed meals to 75 families out of that one-room pantry. It grew to include a tent on the campus, and then a larger tent on a Palm Avenue piece of property loaned to the nonprofit by the Armature Works developers.

Now the tent, on another strip borrowed from the Tampa Housing Authority, extends the length of a football field - beckoning to those in need and calling together the greater community to help and serve. To unite.

"This being my first year at the tent, I was amazed that they started in 1982, that's my birth year," said Joon Park, MetMin's community care chaplain. "To start with a couple of turkeys and now feed 20,000 during the holidays, that's beautiful. I was very moved and inspired by the growth, and what Metropolitan Ministries does, the richness and the history of people giving."

Of course, MetMin's efforts go beyond the tent and even beyond its Hillsborough County partners. On Saturday, they will align with the Dream Center in Lealman and other organizations to go door-to-door and hand-deliver what they call "boxes of hope" filled with a frozen turkey, stuffing, vegetables, potatoes, rice, cereal and some type of dessert mix.

It's the kind of effort they will replicate between now and Christmas, distributing 5,000 meals in Pasco, 3,000 in Pinellas and 12,000 in Hillsborough with the help of community partners.

Back at the tent, the donations will extend to include food and toys after Thanksgiving.

Park says it's not just about what the nonprofit gives, but how they give. They seek to dignify guests. Many come during the worst times of their lives - year-long anguish colliding with holiday stress and the unmet desires of their children and their own hearts.

Navigating such rough emotional terrain can weigh on the psyches of those lending a hand day after day, week after week. So everyone makes note of the hope sightings through emails, online posts and hand-written notes posted on a bulletin board.

As they wrapped up the blessing, a diverse group of people -- young and old, all races, multiple denominations - joined in a prayer circle.

"I love that we hold hands with our thumbs to the left, one hand up and one hand down," Park said. "It's to show that we're giving and receiving."

I wonder if the staff and volunteers - through their loving presence - realize they create their own hope sightings every day.

That's all I'm saying.

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