#HashtagLunchbag volunteers at the sandwich assembly station.

By Meghan Reyes

A new study from Porch shows that for every 10,000 people in Florida, 13.2 are homeless. Forty-four percent of those homeless are living without shelter or a steady food supply. This is where #HashtagLunchbag comes in.

#HashtagLunchbag is a humanitarian service movement dedicated to empowering and inspiring others to reap the benefits of giving. It creates and uses bagged lunches, complete with additional inspiring messages attached, to spread love and share experiences to inspire others.

“The Tampa chapter was initiated in 2015,” Veronica Casteleiro, #HashtagLunchbag Tampa ambassador, said. “When the original ambassadors moved away, the chapter ‘died out.’ In March of 2018, I reached out to Ariana Stiller and the #HashtagLunchbag headquarters and we started the chapter back up.”

Vanessa Rocha, Casteleiro and Stiller are the head organizers of the Tampa Bay chapter. Each began as a volunteer for the organization and later became the heads of the chapter.

“There have been some giveback events where 60 people volunteered,” Stiller said. “Tampa Bay Buccaneer Kwon Alexander volunteered with us one weekend, and a lot of people came out to that event.”

According to Stiller, on average, 20 people will volunteer for giveback events. Volunteers will gather and discuss a game plan for each event. Groups of volunteers will break off into stations and begin assembling the lunch bags. Once all the lunches are packed, a group photo is taken and lunches are distributed through the homeless community in the Tampa community.

“Our main goal is to spread kindness through the community,” Casteleiro said. “We want to show people that, although we may not be in your shoes, we still care.”

The Tampa Bay chapter of #HashtagLunchbag is sponsored by the Kickball Society of Tampa Bay. A local DJ, DJ Uptown, is present to keep spirits high and music flowing at each giveback event.

The Tampa Bay chapter of #HashtagLunchbag hosts giveback events every second Sunday at Yard of Ale Soho in Tampa.

For more information on how to volunteer or start your event, go to hashtaglunchbag.org/get-involved or HashtagLunchbag Tampa Bay on Facebook.

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