InterVarsity Uses Spare Meals to Feed Tampa’s Homeless

Special to The Minaret

Most UT students know to avoid the Spartan Club area on Sunday night anytime after six o’clock, when it suddenly becomes the most crowded spot on campus as students scramble to get rid of the meals they have remaining from the past week.

Long lines at Freshen’s, a mob in front of the Grill and a packed Spartan Store are only a few of the symptoms of this campus-wide epidemic.

But what if students didn’t have to stock up on sandwiches and smoothies at the end of the night? What if they could use their remaining meals to do some good for the Tampa Community at large?

InterVarsity has taken this concept and run with it. Around the end of the first semester last year, senior Mary-Beth Doozan began the program, which has now grown to the point where volunteers are able to provide at least 40 and sometimes as many as 60 meals for Tampa’s homeless each week. The group meets every Sunday in the Spartan Club around six p.m., at which point they converge on the Spartan store, gathering as many meals as they can with whatever remains on their card.

Mai Nguyen, a staff member in the Spartan Store, has become familiar with the group as they come up to raid the Spartan Store each week.

“I tell them if they come late, they won’t get their stuff,” Nguyen said jokingly.

Once the meals have been gathered up, it’s time to hit the streets. Of course, the meals aren’t in endless supply. Even with more than 40 meals, the food will usually be gone within an hour.

Over time the group has built relationships with many of the homeless they see each week.

“We have a lot of regulars,” said senior Melissa Wadley. There are even a few fresh faces on the street from time to time. “In the beginning there [were] no young people, and now we see a handful.”

The group usually packs Wadley’s trunk full of the goods before leaving. They tend to end up around the same area each week, usually staying for an hour or two to pass out the food and talk with the homeless.

“The hardest part is having to turn people away,” said sophomore Maria Palermo. “But they’re understanding.” The people the group feeds are extremely grateful, with many wishes of “God bless you,” for the volunteers.

“It’s crushed a lot of stereotypes I’ve had,” Wadley commented. Indeed, every person they meet has his or her own story and most are more than willing to share.

“All I want is a chance,” said one man by the name of Tyson. He typically works between 16-18 hours a day for less than minimum wage. “I survive on $6.40 an hour,” he said.

A woman by the name of Kelly shared similar experience. “It takes two or three of us to even be able to get a motel room,” she explained.

The isolation of UT students from the homeless in Tampa means that many don’t get an opportunity to alter their own stereotytpes about the homeless through first-person contact.

“We’re cut off from it,” said sophomore Lydia Prakash.

Anyone who wishes to get involved can meet the group in the Spartan Club upstairs on Sunday nights at 6 p.m.

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