TAMPA, Fla. – Neither a pandemic nor back surgery can keep Beth Ross from following her calling to help Tampa’s homeless. Founded in 2014, Blanket Tampa Bay provides adults and youth living on the streets blankets, sleeping bags, and backpacks. Blessing Bags are filled with hygiene items like towels, wet wipes, travel-sized toiletries, lotion, toilet paper, bug spray or mosquito bands, tarps, rain ponchos, and during the pandemic, masks and hand sanitizer.
During a particularly chilly December day in 2014, Beth was a volunteer at Trinity Café and reached out to the director to find out how many people were served daily. When she was told 285, her goal was to collect 300 warm blankets by Christmas Eve to deliver to people in need at Trinity Café.
At the same time, the church Ross and her husband Ray attended was given a large donation. The church gave each family $100 and said to do something to help someone. Beth used the money to purchase as many blankets as she could. Though Tampa Bay seldom dips into freezing temperatures, it could still be uncomfortable for someone living on the streets without essentials like a coat, hat, and gloves.
After she made her purchases, she created a page on Facebook and posted about her blanket goal. Her post went viral, and she was overwhelmed by donations from as far away as Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and California and managed to deliver 308 blankets at Trinity Café.
This one small act of kindness set the wheels in motion. Beth created the nonprofit Blanket Tampa Bay to change the stigma associated with homelessness. Paperwork that normally takes months of red tape was approved in two weeks.
With an abundance of blankets, Beth joined the men and women at St Peter Claver Catholic Church, providing food and passed out more blankets.
Five years later, Ross has given out more than 7,500 blankets. This year, Ross’s goal is 3000. Donations have slowed during the pandemic, and she is 2400 short of her goal.
In November, Moffitt’s Green Committee partnered with Blanket Tampa Bay to donate sterile surgical wraps sewn into sleeping bags to provide the homeless protection from sleeping on the ground or pavement and cover susceptible, often exposed skin.
This year, during the pandemic, Trinity Café provides takeout meals, so Ross and volunteers are hand-delivering blankets and Blessing Bags to Tampa’s displaced population on Christmas Eve.
To raise social consciousness, photographer Renato Rampolla interviewed and photographed the homeless through the country and created a powerful book of portraits, stories, and poetry. All sale proceeds benefit the nonprofit.
In mid-December, tee shirts will be available for purchase on the charity’s Facebook page designed by the homeless about their experience on the streets. All sales return directly to the artist.
Any financial donation to the Blanket Tampa Bay will add a red bulb on a Christmas Charity tree in December.
But extending this kindness isn’t enough for Ross. Inspired by Urban Rest Stops in Seattle, she wants to create a 45-foot container, an Urban Shelter, a safe structure for the homeless to shower and wash their clothing. Her ultimate dream is to find individuals or corporate sponsors to fund her vision into fruition.
Through her work with the homeless in Tampa Bay, Ross has discovered a sad reality. Most people will treat a homeless animal better than a human being. People will capture, feed, bathe, and rehome pets, but most would never think to allow a stranger into their home for a hot meal, running water, and clean clothing.
We are all one catastrophic event away from homelessness: one lost job, one disease, one addiction, one death. A single event moves you from an accepted, contributing member of society to someone who most avoids your gaze.
Ross wants to ensure that every homeless individual feels cared for, blanketing them with humanity and compassion.
To learn more, volunteer to deliver Blessing Bags on Christmas Eve, make a blanket or hygiene item donation, or contribute to Beth’s fundraising for the Urban Shelter, visit blanketampabay.org or facebook.com/blanketforhomeless.