Service and Salvation
Trinity Café in downtown Tampa celebrates 10 years and 750,000 meals served to the community’s homeless and working poor
(This featured was originally published by South Tampa Magazine in December 2011. Since the article was published, Trinity Cafe opened its new facility on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa.)
The line to enter Trinity Café wraps around the Salvation Army building and spills onto the corner near Madison Street. The crowd varies in age, gender and race but they represent the nearly 18,000 homeless and working poor citizens of Tampa Bay.
For 10 years, Trinity Café has provided these struggling men and women with a nutritious and delicious lunch in downtown. For just $2 a plate, Chef Alfred Astl—who left a high-profile job in the hotel industry to join Trinity Café—crafts the best meal that a small amount of money can buy, while the servers interact and converse with this all-too-often overlooked population.
“The face of homelessness has changed over the last few years,” says director Cindy Davis. “These are people who come from all walks of life.”
Watch the weekly lunch service at Trinity Café and the atmosphere is unlike most “soup kitchens.” There are seven tables set up in a restaurant-style setting. Each is staffed with at least one volunteer hostess who sits with the guests and serves them when they need assistance. The guests take as much time as they’d like and are served a three-course meal, which changes every day. No money passes through their hands; just a ticket handed out earlier that day in front of the building. The volunteer staff can serve anywhere from 200-230 guests Monday-Friday from 11:30am-1pm. Chef Alfred says that averages out to about 7,000 meals a month.
Like nearly every non-profit organization, Trinity Café runs on a tiny budget. Chef Alfred and Davis are the only two paid full-time staff members within the organization. Volunteers from around the community and a few part-time employees do the rest. Even though times continue to be tough, the group served its 750,000th meal on Nov. 1, 2011. For Chef Alfred, the milestone is a testament to the hard work and the commitment from the staff.
“Even a small charity can do big things,” he said.
Volunteers and food donations are always appreciated but Trinity Café’s biggest and most consistent need is monetary donations, Davis says. The organization recently purchased a new, larger facility on Nebraska Avenue and hopes to raise $650,000 to help convert it into a full-service kitchen and restaurant that will serve at least 20-percent more guests and operate seven days a week. Davis says they’re more than 40-perent of the way there.
What started as four men trying to help a few homeless sleeping on the steps of a church has blossomed into a full-fledged facility offering the needy a chance to escape the bleakness of street-living and poverty. For Davis, every day is a humbling adventure.
“I always walk away knowing that I’m making a small difference in someone’s life,” she says.
Show your support:
To volunteer, contact program director Cindy Davis at (813) 865-4822 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To make donations, please visit www.TrinityCafe.org.