ST. PETERSBURG – In 1982, Monsignor John P. McNulty started Daystar Life Center as an outreach ministry in the basement of St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in downtown St. Petersburg. Last Saturday, the center held a groundbreaking celebration on a 10,000 square-foot building that will open its doors in April.
“This day has been about 35 years in the making,” said Board Member and Master of Ceremony Bill Logan.
Today, Daystar is located at 226 6th St. S in a 4,000 square-foot building where they are tripping over each other due to lack of space, but come next April, they’ll be moving into their spacious new digs where they will be able to help a higher volume of people in need.
Most of their clients live below the federal poverty level. They are the working poor or unemployed. Daystar helps individuals and families who are food-insecure; struggling to stay in their home, in transitional housing or homeless.
“I am so pleased to have so many of you here to help us join in and be grateful for this gift we’ve been given to extend what we can do for those in our community that struggle every day to get the most basic of their needs met,” said Executive Director Jane Walker.
She went on to praise her dedicated core of more than 200 volunteers who make serving the community a possibility. At any given time there are five to eight interviewers on hand accessing the needs of their clients. They sit down with each individual and figure out how they can address their issues.
What started out 35 years ago as a place to receive help with food and clothes, now offers utility and rent assistance, transportation both local and traveler’s aid, personal hygiene products, backpacks, bus passes, telephone and computers accessibility and even rolling grocery carts.
With only four full-time employees, Daystar can devote 95 percent of their resources to program services. Their clients are referred to them by utility companies, 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares, other social service agencies, the faith community, concerned family and friends and other clients.
Daystar is funded by monetary donations from generous individuals, businesses, churches and civic associations. In-kind contributions from the community help keep food, household goods and personal care items stocked. They also receive grants from Pinellas County, the City of St. Petersburg and local businesses.
So how is Daystar able to build a multi-million dollar facility? Meet Kevin and Jeanne Milkey. Their generous donation of close to two million dollars made the new building possible, which sits across from the Thomas “Jet” Jackson Recreation Center in the Wildwood neighborhood.
“We selected Daystar as our primary charity of choice to support mainly due of their mission of providing the necessities of life to our neighbors in need,” said Kevin Milkey, executive vice president of St. Pete-based American Strategic Insurance Corp. “When you donate to Daystar, it makes an immediate impact, providing for people it serves.”
Milkey praised Daystar for being “incredible stewards” of donated resources. He also mentioned that they received four stars from Charity Navigator, the largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities in the United States.
“When you donate to Daystar, you know where your money is going.”
The new building will sit in the heart of Midtown where poverty levels are high, and resources are low. A predominantly African-American section of the city, there is no grocery store, only high-priced corner stores.
Walker hopes to alleviate some of the need when the new facility’s Choice Pantry opens. Clients will be able to go through and pick items based on the number in their family with more frequency. Currently, they only have an emergency pantry.
The new building will also sport a demonstration kitchen with a classroom attached, more bathrooms and ample parking spaces.
“We’ll have a lot of options and opportunities as we become more aware of what else is needed,” said Walker. “We’ll be able to adapt much better.”
One service that is not coming over to the new building is their mail service. Clients without permanent addresses or unsafe living conditions are able to have their mail come to Daystar. About 1,900 people currently use this service. Walker is looking for a centrally-located space offsite.
Walker said they still need about a million more dollars to outfit the building, but she’s confident their goal will be met. To donate, please call Walker at 727-894-5323 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I know every night when I go home; I know that the door was open and people got help. I can’t think of a better way to end my day,” finished Walker.