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    Charity's Pinellas fundraising criticized

    By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 28, 2001

    Metropolitan Ministries serves more than a million meals a year to the needy, shelters up to 214 homeless people nightly and helps thousands of families avoid homelessness.

    But because the vast majority of its work is in Hillsborough County, the nonprofit agency is learning to tread lightly when it seeks contributions in Pinellas.

    Steve Kersker, a St. Petersburg homeless advocate with a penchant for protests, plans today to picket Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa over its Pinellas fundraising. He contends Pinellas residents may not realize their donations will mainly be spent in Hillsborough and that Metropolitan Ministries should more clearly disclose that.

    "You are taking resources desperately needed here and primarily transferring them to Hillsborough," Kersker complained in a letter to Metropolitan Ministries. Kersker heads a foundation that feeds the needy and helps lead a St. Petersburg homeless task force.

    Metropolitan Ministries does most of its work, but not all, in Hillsborough. The nonprofit agency has strong supporters among social service providers on both sides of the bay.

    "We're all working together for one cause," said Barbara Green, administrator at Everybody's Tabernacle in Clearwater. "They just gave us 68 brand new bikes."

    Metropolitan Ministries also recently helped the Pinellas Urban League provide food and toys to more than 100 families.

    "We see Tampa Bay as one community, and we're doing our best to reach the homeless and the needy wherever they are," said Karlene Kos, executive vice president of Metropolitan Ministries.

    She acknowledged, though, that the overwhelming majority of its clients are in Hillsborough and that some fundraising for Metropolitan Ministries has raised eyebrows among social service providers in Pinellas.

    Metropolitan Ministries a few weeks ago asked a couple on U.S. 19 in north Pinellas to stop raising money for the agency through Christmas tree sales. Kos said the couple was well-intentioned, but Metropolitan wanted to avoid confusion over whether it was Metropolitan's tent.

    Likewise, Metropolitan Ministries heard of questions about Wal-Marts in Pinellas seeking donations for Metropolitan Ministries. Wal-Marts throughout the area participated in that effort.

    "Our integrity means everything to us, and at times we're learning what sorts of things inadvertently send messages we wouldn't want sent," Kos said.

    Metropolitan Ministries occasionally seeks donations in St. Petersburg Times advertisements and in direct mail solicitations in Pinellas, but Kos said its Tampa address is clearly noted. She did not know how much of its $6.4-million budget comes from Pinellas donors.

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