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From the December 20, 2002 print edition


Agency faces cutbacks because donations dry up

Donations to Metropolitan Ministries Inc. lag about 25 percent compared with last year, but a spokeswoman linked the slow year to a national drop in charitable donations caused by the down economy, not to a board of directors issue that drew an outpouring of negative attention to the Tampa nonprofit.

In January, Linda Karson, the wife of a TECO Energy Inc. executive, was told she was ineligible for board membership because she is Jewish. Later that month, the organization dropped the old requirement that board members needed to be Christians but still required that the board include a two-thirds majority of Christians.

In April, amid a flood of negative responses, the organization dropped the two-thirds majority rule, too.

Metropolitan Ministries' 27-member board now includes two Jewish members and one of the Baha'i faith.

No evidence ties the bylaw controversy to the lag in donations, said Lesa Weikel, coordinator of community relations. In fact, during the 2001-2002 fiscal year ended June 30 the organization raised nearly $800,000 more than its previous fiscal year, in spite of the controversy in January, Weikel said.

"(This year) more people are less willing to give because they are unsure of their financial situation," Weikel said.

Of more than 5,100 needy families Metropolitan Ministries is trying to serve during the remaining holiday season, the organization currently only has enough food and gifts for about 1,200. Nearly 1,000 more families than last year are depending on the organization for help during the holidays, the organization reported in a release.

Metropolitan Ministries needs 726,000 pounds of food, 10,200 turkeys and 84,500 new toys and gifts for children of all ages.

The organization stated in the release that if donations don't improve, services likely will be cut in 2003.

Metropolitan Ministries operated from a budget of $8.4 million for fiscal year 2001-2002. The organization reported to The Business Journal Serving Greater Tampa Bay in October that 25 percent of donations come from businesses.

House Cleaning: Staff at the Hillsborough County Community Improvement Department have been busy changing, updating and improving a number of procedures and programs to help it better comply with federal accounting standards.

The staff's most daunting endeavor has been restructuring the entire process of assessing and monitoring agencies that receive grant funds.

That means replacing a manual system that Don Shea, community development director, called "abysmal." A new computerized system is being accessed to document and track hundreds of pieces of correspondence pertaining to grant and special project agreements.

Wrap it up!: Gift-wrap challenged business people might find helpful elves at WestShore Plaza in Tampa.

Volunteers from the Tampa chapter of the Women's American Organization for Rehabilitation will accept your unwrapped gift drop-offs through Christmas Eve. The colorfully wrapped packages can be retrieved at lunch or after work. All that trust and loving care can be bought for $1 to $5 per gift depending on the shape and size of the chosen bauble, foot massager, or whatever useful or frivolous gift you have chosen.

But don't look for competition-challenged toy store FAO Schwarz or The Disney Store in venerable WestShore, which has celebrated more than 30 holiday seasons.

Schwarz' quirky displays and Disney's souvenirs left the mall earlier this year.

Magic bus: Sports fans in the Tampa Bay area turn out near-capacity crowds whenever the Orlando Magic played preseason games locally in recent years, yet not nearly as many go to regular-schedule games, citing the long drive as an excuse. Now it appears that problem may be solved.

The Magic teamed up with Anywhere Tours of Florida to offer a new shuttle service from Tampa and Lakeland to select home games at the TD Waterhouse Centre in Orlando.

Shuttles will be available for 11 dates starting Dec. 28 through April 12.

Pickup points for Magic games will be at Bennigan's on West Brandon Boulevard in Tampa and Hooters on U.S. 98 North in Lakeland. The round-trip cost is $12 per passenger. For more information, call (866) 622-6442 or logon to

Do you have an item for the Baysider? Drop Mac McKerral a line at or call him at (813) 342-2472.

©Copyright 2002, American City Business Journals (Tampa Bay, FL, USA)

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