Dil, along with her husband Rene, started volunteering for the drive in its early years. What got her involved? “It’s definitely the fact that it’s been a facility to help me get my kids involved in the neighborhood,” she said. Referring to neighborhood participation levels, she added, “It’s a competitive sport in our family to see if we can improve our numbers. And it’s also a great way for us to see how giving our Westchase neighborhood is. After you do the food sorting and come home exhausted, you just feel wonderful.”
Jennifer Kloos of Windsor Place Townhomes will be participating as a neighborhood captain again this year so that all of the neighborhoods in Northwest Hillsborough can stand together. “I do it because there are families who aren’t fortunate to have what my family has or my neighbors have. In my community of Windsor Place, we look out for each other and this annual Thanksgiving drive is a way for us to give back to other people we normally don’t have an opportunity to run into.”
A dozen years ago, the food drive began as an Eagle Scout project organized by Ben Stein. Even after WOW took it on to keep the great tradition alive 11 years ago, Ben’s parents, Jonathan and Martha, have returned every year. “I can’t imagine having to decide between celebrating a tradition with your family or not having the money to do that. It’s the same as not getting medicine when you’re sick,” said Martha. “Anything we can do to help people’s happiness and welfare is worth as much time as we have.”
Especially for Bridges residents Courtney and Steve Netta, their volunteering and participation in the drive, along with their kids, Jillian and Dominic, are ways to say an extra special thank you to their community.
They understand the life-saving importance of donations.
In June 2017, Steve started having arm discomfort and experienced trouble breathing. After his cardiologist discovered the arteries to his heart had significant blockages, he scheduled a procedure.
The timing couldn’t have been more significant. “They found out that I had 99 percent blockage in the artery called the widow maker,” Steve said, adding that his cardiologist told him had he not come in, he would have likely been dead within two weeks. “I would have been dead before I hit the ground.”
While in the hospital for the procedure, however, Steve did have a minor heart attack. On June 16 of that year, he went into surgery for a triple bypass.
There were complications. With doctors struggled to stop Steve’s bleeding during the operation, they put him in a medically induced coma.
He received 18 blood transfusions to keep him alive. “I know about donations,” said Steve, grateful for blood donors. “Donations save people’s lives. It can change someone’s life in a heartbeat.”
Steve came out of the coma on June 17, the couple’s wedding anniversary. The next day was Father’s Day.
When the Nettas returned home, they faced significant challenges. Unable to return to full time work for three months, Steve, a computer programmer and stand up comic, went on long-term disability. Courtney, an online reservationist, had to take an unpaid sabbatical to care for her husband.
Their Sturbridge neighbors rallied, creating a food chain that provided them dinner for weeks. “One of the things we kept talking about after it is how wonderful it is in Westchase. Everyone looks out for one another,” said Steve. “The street was like a family.”
Neighbors took care of housekeeping, chauffeured the Netta kids and stepped in to give Courtney much needed breaks.
Meanwhile the Westchase Charitable Foundation stepped with much needed financial assistance. “That was amazing,” Steve recalled. “They hand delivered a check. He said, ‘We read your story and this is exactly what we’re here for—to help neighbors in need.’”
Through A Go Fund Me Page other local residents offered more assistance to the Nettas. Steve recalls all the donations totaling around $10,000. “It was a godsend,” said Steve. “You still have your mortgage to pay.”
“Even teachers from Westchase Elementary who taught my children Kindergarten 10 years ago gave donations,” said Courtney. “It was very touching.”
“I was humbled but knowing Westchase I wasn’t shocked how people rallied around us,” recalled Courtney. “What happened to Steve passed very quickly through the community. I had people bringing me food I didn’t know. People would make donations and say, ‘My son was in Dominic’s class.’”
“Honestly,” said Courtney, “the only reason we were able to keep our house was that help. It was financially crippling.”
She added, “Thanks to Westchase we were able to stay in Westchase and we will keep giving back as long as we’re able to because of that.”
Steve Netta added he loves this time of year, especially because it’s a time when people take stock of their lives—for what they’re grateful.
After the outpouring of support for them, the Nettas took stock and decided they wanted to pay it forward. They made contributions to the WCF and to their local public schools. Last year, wanting to volunteer with their kids during the holidays, they signed up for the food drive as a way to offer their thanks.
“We didn’t think twice about it,” said Steve.
The Nettas are returning this year. “It will be our annual tradition to help Westchase as much as they helped us,” he said.
This year Steve Netta’s 50th birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day. His birthday wish? “For about 50 more birthdays,” he said with a laugh, then added, “Health and happiness for my family and everyone I know and love.”
Along with the Dils, Kloos and the Nettas, 1,425 other homes in Westchase and Northwest neighborhoods all had their personal reasons to participate in last year’s food drive, donating an estimated 42,912 pounds of food – over 21 tons! – and 826 turkeys (645 donated from homes; 181 donated in matches).
What’s your personal reason for participating as a way of saying “thanks” this year?
Participating in the Drive
The 12th annual Westchase Thanksgiving Food Drive will benefit 30,000 Tampa Bay needy families through Metropolitan Ministries. Last year Metropolitan Ministries CEO Tim Marks declared the drive“the biggest community food drive in Tampa Bay.”
Last November a record 1,428 homes participated, nearly 100 more homes than the previous year. Your generosity filled three trucks!
To enhance participation, WOW is offering a prize of $250 for a holiday block party for the top performing neighborhoods. This year two neighborhoods with the highest percentage of homes donating frozen turkeys will win $250 for a holiday block party. One prize will be offered in Westchase and another in the top subdivision that receives WOW Northwest.
A Tampa institution, Metropolitan Ministries is an ecumenical organization that assists Tampa’s community of homeless and hungry citizens in ways that instill both dignity and self-sufficiency. Established in 1972 by 13 churches of different denominations, Metropolitan Ministries now occupies a sizable campus on Florida Avenue and helps tens of thousands of Tampa Bay’s poorest families—and their children—each holiday season.
To further encourage residents to participate, a number of generous businesses have committed to making corporate matches. They will match portions of your contributions so you can have an even bigger impact.
Who is participating?
The Wood Team/Smith & Associates: $1 donated for every home that participates (up to $1,500)
Dr. Christine Armstrong of Children’s Medical Center of Westchase: 1 can for every donated turkey
Maria Kletchka of Keller Williams Tampa Properties: 1 can for every donated turkey (up to $500)
Dr. Ngoc Pham, MD with Tre Medspa: 1 can for every donated turkey (up to $500)
Peter Prince with Royal Financial: 1 turkey for every five donated and 100 cans of food ($300 maximum)
How to Help?
To join the community effort, simply purchase as many of the food items as you wish from the list running with this article and place them in front of your homes, either out on your driveway or near your mailbox at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24 (Please do not leave donations in alleys; these are not driven by our volunteers).
Whether you can afford only a few cans or an entire meal (see our Box of Hope food list), we welcome your participation. If you are donating from your pantry, please check expiration dates before placing items out for donation. Expired items cannot be accepted.
The weekend prior to the drive, volunteers will leave a reminder flyer with the list at your door so you can take it to the supermarket with you.
If you’re leaving town before Sunday, Nov. 24, you can still participate. You can drop your donations off early at 10314 Seabridge Way in The Bridges. You can also leave donations with a neighbor to set out on your driveway on Nov. 24. (No frozen turkeys can be dropped off early, however, since no freezer space is available). If dropping off early, please include your address and subdivision name with your donation so that your neighborhood receives credit.
WOW’s food drive volunteers will do the rest. Dozens will canvass neighborhoods and deliver reminder flyers over the weekend of Nov. 16-17. On Sunday, Nov. 24, volunteers will then drive through your neighborhood to pick up donations.
If you are donating a frozen turkey, please place it out as close to the 1 p.m. pick-up as possible to help keep it frozen.
If you are interested in volunteering with the drive, simply e-mail WOW Editor Chris Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org. We especially need volunteers in the Westwood Lakes, West Hampton and Westchester neighborhoods.
WOW hopes even more residents and businesses participate in the food drive’s matching campaign. Simply e-mail WOW Publisher Chris Barrett at email@example.com for information on how you can be a matching partner. We will announce your generous match on Westchase Neighborhood News on Facebook.
Thanksgiving Box of Hope
1 frozen turkey
2 cans of fruit
2 cans of yams
2 bags or boxes of stuffing mix
4 cans of vegetables
1 jar of peanut butter
2 bags or cans of beans
2 cans or boxes of potatoes
2 cans of cranberry sauce
2 cans or packets of gravy
1 box of cake or dessert mix
1 bag of rice
By Chris Barrett, Publisher; Photos by James Broome Photography