BDG is honored to be working with nonprofit Feeding Tampa Bay on their new $60 million facility south of Ybor city. The timing couldn't be better. Food insecurity is a critical workforce issue that has become more acute through the pandemic as rising costs "to get by" have forced higher wage earners to tap food banks with far more frequency.
Tampa Bay Business Journal
CEOs need workers hungry for success.
What is less known is many are just hungry.
In Hillsborough County, if you have a family of four, two adults with two kids in child care, it costs upward of $74,000 yearly for basic needs — from 2018 numbers. It assumes housing costs $1,066 a month, said Doug Griesenauer, vice president of community impact for United Way Suncoast.
"It's impossible. That [number] doesn't exist anymore," he said.
Some relief may be coming. Next week, $26 million Tampa nonprofit Feeding Tampa Bay will break ground on a $60 million facility south of Ybor City – it will be one of the largest social services buildings ever built in Tampa Bay.
The new facility will be 215,000 square feet. The land has been cleared and it is set to be finished in February 2024.
The timing is good. Food insecurity is a critical workforce issue that has become more acute through the pandemic as rising costs "to get by" have forced higher wage earners to tap food banks with far more frequency.
At the height of the pandemic, the organization saw the need rise of over 400%, said Thomas Mantz, president & CEO. It stayed that high for five months. The need reduced slowly to around 35% above the previous need and stayed at that level for about a year and improved back to nearly pre-pandemic levels. But with inflation rising, the need has been back up over the last six to 9 months, Mantz said.
Food insecurity is a complex issue – challenges for working people and families around food are interconnected with housing and transportation costs. While some corporate leaders among the 40 serving on the Feeding Tampa Bay board get it, there is broad consensus that many CEOs have no clue.
The increase in the volume of people at the food bank during the pandemic was "staggering," said FTB board member Keri Higgins-Bigelow, founder and CEO of livingHR in Tampa. The reactions are memorable when she makes the workforce connection with CEOs and clients.
"They're in total shock," she said. "What we have now is this false sense of security that we've increased wages and so now it's better, but it's not. I don't even think they're thinking about it."
Some of the employers she advises are paying $15 an hour at a minimum.
"But that's still not enough when you do the math, just for basic household expenses and so that's where I think their shock lies; they're just disconnected," she said. "The people making the decisions can't go back and relate exactly to what it's like when you make that little."
Lauren Key's a-ha moment was also workforce-related. A year into her FTB board service, the CEO asked her what she had "unlearned" about food insecurity. It's a little embarrassing now, but when she started on the board, she didn't realize the basic premise.
"I thought we were feeding the homeless," said Key, senior executive officer of consumer strategy, West Florida division at Advent Health. "And I realized that over 80% of the people who come to Feeding Tampa Bay are from working families who have one, two, sometimes even three jobs that they're trying to put the pieces together."
The pandemic exposed most households' vulnerability and underlying weakness to employers in a good way, said Mantz.
"They saw a significant challenge to the long-term viability of their business based on, 'Oh, how do we pay and how do we think about taking care of folks?'"
"In large corporations where a CEO can be slightly detached from the rank and file employees, people don't realize that ALICE families – formerly known as the working poor – are hard at work and can be performing individuals," said Kareem Spratling, a partner at Tampa law firm Bryant Miller Olive and FTB board vice chair. "But every day they're stressing out about where that next meal will come from."
These are often households with two working parents.
"They have children, and they're one accident away from one emergency or financial disaster," Spratling said. "It also affects their work performance."
United Way is known for the ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) Report, which was last updated in 2018. New numbers are due in April. Talking to his New Jersey colleagues working on the 2023 report, there are no new revelations, Griesenauer said.
"It's now even more expensive to get by," Griesenauer said. "But the number is important to know that magnitude."
Read more in the Tampa Business Journal.