TAMPA (FOX 13) - As Metropolitan Ministries geared up Wednesday for the 6,000 low-income families it'll feed on Thanksgiving, thousands of others had the chance to pick up enough food at the organization's holiday tent in Tampa to feed their loved ones.
At the ministries' main campus, Chef Luis Soto helped make sure everything was in order for the meal Thursday, which will include thousands of pounds of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and other foods.
All we have to do is just heat everything up," Soto said. "It's Thanksgiving, so we try to make this special, not for ourselves but for the people that we're helping."
At the organization's holiday tent, volunteers helped families get the supplies they need to make a meal at home; some families said they don't know what they'd do without the assistance.
"I'm very, very thankful. I just moved and I barely have enough food to make it through the next week," said Mary Booth-Wilson, who was at the tent with her 4-year-old daughter.
Booth-Wilson, like more than 200 other families, hadn't planned to stop by the tent until the last day. She said a friend suggested heading over there.
"Your ego makes it very hard [to ask for help]," she said. "The feeling like, 'I'm an adult, I should be able to take care of myself, why does it seem like things are falling or aren't going right?'"
Metropolitan Ministries CEO Tim Marks said the organization is providing help to 18,000 families this Thanksgiving, including a lot of people who had never previously signed up.
"Of the 18,000 families that we're going to be serving throughout Tampa Bay, about 50 percent -- close to 9,000 -- are first-time guests coming to this type of program," Marks said. "Life happens to some people, struggles come along their way but cetainly Irma has impacted people with the evacuation costs, the lost wage cost, repair cost, loss of food."
Registration isn't necessary to participate in the Thanksgiving meal; it's open to anyone who doesn't have a place to go.
The organization remains focused on getting things ready for the rest of the holiday season and toy donations are needed. Marks said Metropolitan Ministries will serve 13,000 children but the toy inventory is currently at an all-time low.