The Oxford Exchanged…in Tampa?

One moment you are standing on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, and the next you are transported worlds away. It’s like stepping on to the set of the latest Harry Potter movie. You almost expect magical creatures to serve you tea or the pictures on the wall to move.  Your first steps into The Oxford Exchange in Tampa are magical. Books, bustling people, and a building that seems to expand once you are inside. The beautiful architecture of the hallway and the smell of coffee brewing down the hall beckons you inside.

The Oxford Exchange as all the charm and intrigue of newness, but feels like home with the incorporation of local hot spots like Buddy Brew Coffee. The lost souls of Tampa have found a home. It’s what For all the novelty of downtown Tampa there has never been anything more appropriately placed than The Oxford Exchange. From a restaurant, to tea, coffee, books and a specialty store your senses will be on overload.

Finally there is a place to get away during lunch, to forget that the daily grind is in full swing. There is a relaxed atmosphere that is friendly and inviting, it says ‘ just because we have lattes to go doesn’t mean that you have to go.’ At Starbucks there is a constant feeling of urgency, they are slammed, they are burnt-out and they are feeding money into a corporate giant. In the end, we are happily giving our money back to the community by supporting the local vendors snugly placed inside The Oxford Exchange.

Although I haven’t personally tried the food as of yet, I have heard rave reviews on the matter. It seems that top-notch is their mantra and truth be told, it will be hard to compete with The Oxford Exchange.

From the architecture to the atmosphere, this was just what Tampa was missing. Perhaps once I’ve stayed a bit longer I can add to my review. I might even talk to a few of the employees and see what they think of the new hangout. Until then I have to suggest you see for yourself. Don’t stare too long or you might see the staircases changing location.

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Metropolitan Ministries fights a growing homeless population in Tampa, Florida


Metropolitan Ministries is a well-known name to homeless on the streets of Tampa. Outside children are at play, a man is asleep on a bench and a few people puff idly on cigarettes. Masses of people waiting inside tell a sad story about our economy.

9,566 homelessness men, women and children were counted in the 2009 Hillsborough county census. Orange-vested panhandlers are the only ‘truth’ most people ever learn about the homeless.

The reality is many of those people are not homeless, Jay Molina, director of compassion and action said. In fact, Molina said, the median age of the homeless in Tampa is nine.

Why are nine-year-olds homeless? Because their parents are.

“There aren’t enough shelters out there to house families. There are shelters out there to house single individuals, but there are few that house families,” Karl Celestine, director of outreach & prevention services said.” That’s because it’s not typical for families to be homeless, but that’s happening more every day.”

Tonight, Metropolitan Ministries said approximately 8,000 people in Tampa won’t be able to find shelters. On any given day, Celestine said, Metropolitan Ministries can have 40-50 families on their waiting list for housing.

AnaMaria Mendez, director of community relations said, “We had one case where a single mom and her child had been sleeping in a parking lot because it was well lit.”

Cases like these are not uncommon. The faces of the homeless, however, are often lost amongst ideas and generalities. Organizations like Metropolitan Ministries work to correct the problem.

“In our programs we train them through educational classes, so they will have a different perspective on how to live,” Celestine said. “We teach them how to fish as opposed to giving them the fish.”

Metropolitan Ministries offer services such as GED classes, an employment lab, counseling, money management, childcare and educational opportunities for children.

The homeless and needy often find out about these programs in a unique way. Rather than through commercials, radio programs and advertisements, the success of others speaks volumes.

“People often find out through word-of-mouth. We’ve been in the community for close to 40 years. We are pretty well established,” Mendez said. “People know this is where you come to find these services. “

As shelters struggle against a growing homeless population, the community can do their part and they are.

The job and housing market may be declining, but good will is increasing. People are becoming more empathic as reality hits home, literally. They feel the pull of the economy on their finances.

“There has been an increase in volunteers,” Mendez said.  “People want to give back, they want to feel like they are part of the solution in helping their fellow neighbor.”