Riverview resident Anita ‘Mama Thorn’ DeBiase was driving on U.S. Hwy. 301 20 years ago when she heard the Lord’s voice say, “Feed my sheep.”
Even though she was caring for Carl, her sick husband, she was determined to follow the prompting.
“Even though I was going through a trial in my own life, I needed to help others,” said DeBiase, a German immigrant who was a child during World War II and moved to the United States in 1958. “I know what it’s like to be hungry and have nothing to eat.”
When her husband’s nurse told her about Thankfully Helping Others Real Needs (THORN) Ministries, a charity that feeds the homeless in Tampa on Sundays, she decided to get involved by cooking meals in her kitchen and delivering them to Tampa’s often-overlooked population.
“The good book tells us we need to help one another,” DeBiase said.
The 84-year-old can’t serve as much as she used to because of health issues, but she still helps out by storing the ministry’s mobile food pantry in her large yard.
THORN Ministries founder Kristin Taylor credits her ministry’s longevity to volunteers like DiBiase.
“The volunteers that come and help and give of their time and resources is just incredible,” she said.
The ministry started when Taylor and her husband, who had four biological children and were foster parents to eight more, decided one Thanksgiving to teach her large family to think about others instead of themselves. They made some food, piled into the family van and went to downtown Tampa, where they fed about 60 homeless people.
“The impact it had on my kids was amazing,” Taylor said.
The service project touched more than her children’s hearts. She saw the desperate need within the homeless population and knew they needed help. That one-time teaching moment turned into a 24-year mission.
“God hooked me into this for life,” she said.
People quickly found out about the service she was doing and wanted to help. Volunteers cook food in their homes. Others help pass out the food to the homeless. Even elderly volunteers have food dropped off to their homes so they can prepare the ingredients into delicious meals, which are then picked up for distribution.
“Everyone can get involved,” said Taylor.
The ministry has grown from feeding 60 homeless people weekly to almost 400. Since she started, she has traded in the family van for a food trailer. Every week, she sees a miracle in the number of food trays that get donated by volunteers. In its 24 years in operation, it’s never run out of food. Leftovers get delivered to needy families in Gibsonton.
In addition to a meal, the group passes out hygiene and first aid products. Sometimes, a hairdresser volunteers to cut hair. If a homeless person needs a pair of steel-toed boots or a black T-shirt for work or a pair of sneakers, she said they always seem to secure the required items.
“There are really a million ways to get involved,” she said.
Taylor once had someone come up to her and tell her that he didn’t have time to volunteer but he did have money and asked how he could be of assistance. She mentioned a few small items that he could donate. He said, “Think bigger.” She mentioned that her vehicle was having mechanical issues. He bought her a new truck.
“It’s a miraculous thing that’s happening here,” she said. “The Lord is providing.”
To learn more about volunteering or making a donation to THORN Ministries, contact volunteer coordinator Jamie Yonke at 813-205-0745 or visit www.thornministries.net.