By William Jacko
Special to The Laker/Lutz News
Beth Ross dreams of building the first Urban Rest Stop in Tampa — a place where the homeless and working poor can use restrooms, take showers and launder clothes, and eventually get haircuts, conduct job searches, and access financial and mental health counseling.
Until that dream becomes a reality, Beth and her husband, Ray, will continue to help the homeless through Blanket Tampa Bay, a nonprofit they founded to feed the homeless and distribute blankets, toiletries and bicycles.
Although they did not realize it at the time, the couple’s Urban Rest Stop dream began five years ago while they were attending Oakwood Community Church in Carrollwood.
“The church had a really large donation,” Beth said. “They gave every family in the church a hundred dollars, and said, ‘Go do something good with this.’”
Since Beth Ross hates cold weather, she decided to give blankets to the homeless for warmth, padding and protection against insects. She created a Blanket Tampa Bay Facebook page, and with the church’s seed money, distributed more than 1,000 blankets the first two years. In time, the Rosses expanded their mission from blankets to hygiene products, bicycles and other items the homeless need.
Their volunteer work attracted the attention of corporate sponsors, including the New York Yankees, who donated $10,000. That donation inspired the couple to explore new ways to help the homeless, which led them to Seattle to tour the country’s first Urban Rest Stop.
When Beth speaks to groups about Blanket Tampa Bay, she tells stories of unexpected blessings, happy endings and new beginnings —stories that motivate people to act.
One of her favorite stories is about a homeless man she passed on her way to work who hadn’t moved from the same bench in several days. He repeatedly rejected Beth’s offers of help, so she asked a police officer to check on him. The officer was able to involuntarily commit the man to St. Joseph’s Hospital for medical evaluation, where he was treated for a broken hip and kidney failure.
“He was in so much pain that he couldn’t move off that bench,” Beth speculated.
She soon learned the man’s backstory. He had worked for Pinellas County Schools for more than 30 years and was entitled to a pension that he was not receiving. Social services intervened and helped him get his pension, and today he is healthy and living in an apartment.
Had Beth not intervened, the man would have likely died on the street, virtually invisible, amidst the averted eyes of hundreds of people waiting at the nearby bus stop or driving by.
“That man wasn’t a bum. He wasn’t an alcoholic. He wasn’t doing drugs or anything. All it takes is one life-changing event to be homeless,” Beth said.
On Monday nights the Rosses serve the homeless in the parking lot at St. Peter Claver Church, located at 1203 Nebraska Ave., from 7 p.m. to 8p.m.
“We serve about a 160 to 180 homeless people every week,” Beth said. “There are so many men, women and children out there who are homeless and need help. I can’t wait to build an Urban Rest Stop so the homeless have a place to clean up, use the bathroom and launder their clothes.”
To learn more about Blanket Tampa Bay, and to donate, visit BlanketTampaBay.org, or call Beth at (813) 300-9277.
Published February 27, 2019
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