This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
The news this week ranged from the distressing (Tallahassee) to the downright terrible (Ukraine), so instead of rehashing the low points, we thought of highlighting the more redeeming stories of the week from around Tampa Bay and the state.
Region supports Ukraine. Tampa Bay residents did more than recoil in horror this week as Russia continued to invade Ukraine. Hundreds of people around the bay area gathered in protests, and many channeled their outrage into tangible shows of support. St. Petersburg’s Epiphany of Our Lord Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church launched a donation drive, and posted links to resources to help Ukraine, including links to organizations that are facilitating donations and fundraising, such as the Ukrainian Youth Organization, the U.N. Refugee Agency and ucca.org (the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America), which is fundraising for humanitarian aid. Tampa Bay also lit up in blue and yellow to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people; on Monday, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa was illuminated to honor the country’s flag, following the city of Tampa’s example in lighting up its Old City Hall and downtown bridges. Here’s to hoping that the coverage of this war, and the visibility Tampa Bay institutions are giving it, will sustain local efforts to help Ukraine with this worsening humanitarian crisis.
Feed the hungry. Food pantries across Tampa Bay were already stretched thin even before the coronavirus caused the economy to sputter. That’s why the $5 million commitment Hillsborough County made this week to Feeding Tampa Bay is such a timely and worthwhile investment. Commissioners pledged the money toward Feeding Tampa Bay’s new food bank and community outreach center, which will expand the amount of food the agency can distribute across a 10-county region. The $50 million project includes a 140,000-square-foot storage and distribution warehouse, a grocery store and restaurant, volunteer space, community room, kitchen and space for the agency’s job training programs. Nearly 1 million people in the 10-county region of more than 4.3 million residents are considered food insecure. The agency served 95 million meals last year and aims to increase that number to 150 million meals annually. This is a perfect example of putting federal COVID-relief money to worthy and appropriate use. And it signals the county’s partnership in helping Feeding Tampa Bay foster a healthier and more productive region.
More housing aid. Along those same lines, Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa are rolling out another tranche of federal COVID-relief to people unable to pay rent or utilities because of the pandemic. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program previously distributed nearly $54 million to more than 13,800 applicants, providing an average grant of $3,897 to cover payments for about three months’ rent, in addition to about $229 to cover electric utility bills. The county, which is administering the program for both governments, will begin accepting applications Tuesday, and it anticipates being able to help about 6,000 tenants. Eligible expenses include up to 12 months of past-due rent from March 2020 or later, and help is also available for tenants who are unable to stay current and are facing eviction. Payments go directly to landlords, so it is essential they register to participate. This is a sensible program that puts money directly into the proper hands, and the housing security it provides could ease the anxiety for thousands and help stabilize local employment. Online applications are available at r3.hcflgov.net/
DeSantis’ great news. Florida first lady Casey DeSantis is officially “cancer-free,” according to a video announcement the governor posted Thursday. “After going through both treatment and surgery for breast cancer, she is now considered cancer-free,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in the recorded message, thanking all who have expressed support for the family. The governor’s office announced in October that Casey DeSantis, 41, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. According to a post from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, “cancer-free” means someone not only has no detectable cancer in their body, but doctors also believe there is no residual cancer that could come back. This is wonderful news, and an inspiration for anyone struggling with a medical crisis.
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All revved up. Can anyone doubt that the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has become a signature event — for the city and the circuit alike? The local event, which began in 2003, brought more welcome attention to the Tampa Bay region last weekend. Advance ticket sales were a record, and though the Grand Prix does not typically announce official attendance figures, IndyCar Series officials told the Indianapolis Star that the crowd was up 49 percent over the three-day weekend from the previous record, set in 2019. Attendance that year was estimated at 140,000. And officials announced this week that the inaugural race of the 2022 IndyCar Series was the series’ most-watched season-opener in 11 years, and the most-watched IndyCar race over the same time period aside from the Indianapolis 500. That level of excitement is a great annual debut for the circuit. And the scenes of large, excited crowds under the sun-splashed waterfront are priceless images for St. Petersburg and Florida.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.