WESTCHASE — The spirit of thanksgiving is present within the Westchase community as residents gather needed items for Metropolitan Ministries’ holiday food drive.

On Nov. 20, volunteers will be picking up donations from the following neighborhoods: Westchase, Westchester, Windsor Place, Mandolin, Highland Park, Waterchase, West Hampton, Westwood Lakes, and Fawn Ridge.

Residents are asked to place items on their driveway or near their mailbox at 1 p.m., and if they are donating a frozen item, to please put it out as close to the pick-up time as possible to help keep it frozen. A collection truck will also visit Westchase Elementary School from 1-3 p.m.

Items being collected include frozen turkeys, cans of fruit and vegetables, cans of yam, a bag or box of stuffing mix, a can or box of potatoes, a can of cranberry sauce, a can or packet of gravy, a box of cake or dessert mix, a bag of rice, a box of mac ’n’ cheese, and a box of cereal.

The two neighborhoods with the highest percentage of turkeys donated will win $250 toward a holiday block party. Last year, Keswick Forest in Westchase and Highland Park in the northwest neighborhoods earned the prize.

“The World of Westchase is the largest food drive that is done on behalf of Metropolitan Ministries for our holiday tent season,” said Justine Burke, vice president of marketing for Metropolitan Ministries. “They go all out, it’s unbelievable what they do. We count on this food drive (from World of Westchase) every year and we’re so grateful to them.”

In 2021, the World of Westchase was able to donate 47,905 pounds of food. As a result, there were 811 turkeys and three hams, plus more than $3,000 was collected from the drive’s business matchers and other pledges. Thanks to the generosity of residents, at least 811 families were able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.

For Karen Ring, publisher of World of Westchase, this will be her first year at the helm of the food drive. While the drive has been going on in Westchase since 2008, volunteers are always ready to step up and help with pick-ups and pack its Boxes of Hope.

“I had a list of past volunteers, and I sent out a mass email probably six weeks ago saying it’s going to be that time of year again,” Ring said. “I was nervous because I’m new, but I immediately had 30 responses in five minutes from people who couldn’t wait. People get very excited to get out and take part in this and help. It’s heartwarming to see.”

Anyone interested in volunteering for the drive can email Ring at editor@westchasewow.com.

Even local businesses have reached out to encourage people to participate in the drive. Peter Prince of Royal Financial will match one can of food for every 10 participating homes (up to $500); Dr. B. Ngoc Pham, M.D. with Tre Medspa and Tre Nail Lounge will match 50 cents for every donated turkey (up to $600); and Nancy & Doug Wood, The Wood Team-Smith & Associates Real Estate will match $1 per participating home up to $1,600.

Between Hurricane Ian, inflation and higher rents in Tampa Bay, many families are struggling to make it through the holidays. According to Burke, Metropolitan Ministries wouldn’t be able to conduct its outreach if it wasn’t for community support like World of Westchase.

“We’re the conduit, we know where the need is, we let the community know where it is and what the needs are and why people are struggling,” Burke said. “People respond to that. We see over and over again the generosity of the community, it’s incredible. People of all walks of life coming together to help a stranger, it’s a very inspiring thing to see.”

Metropolitan Ministries has three donation locations this year: the Holiday Tent at 2609 N. Rome Ave., Tampa; St. James United Methodist Church at 16202 Bruce B Downs Blvd., Tampa; and Generations Christian Church at 1540 Little Road, Trinity.

Whether you are a family or individual in need of help or would like to help, visit www.metromin.org/holiday-central for more information.