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Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives Here

One is seven Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless.

One in six Americans faces food insecurity.

Living in the comforts of suburbia, we often forget how many families struggle this time of year.  That one person could be your neighbor and you wouldn’t even know it.  As others struggle to put food on the table, we take for granted pantries full of food.

When the Tampa Bay Bloggers were presented with an opportunity to volunteer at Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent, I arrived with shopping bags full of food.  After trying to prepare meals for under $4, I eagerly gave several cans of organic items and healthy ingredients for guests shopping at the holiday tent.

IMAG3800 Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives Here

IMAG3802 Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives Here

Like a well-known supermarket chain promising shopping to be a pleasure, the holiday tent offers a joyful, comfortable atmosphere as guests wait for their turn to fill their shopping carts.  A large play area entertains young children as their parents make their selections from the shelves.

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The Buccaneers entertain children as their parents shop.

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Steph Garcia of helps guests locate items.

For my role at the tent, I was assigned to help guests shop.  Based on the size of their family, the guests are given a modest shopping list.  As a shopping assistant, I helped the guests locate the items on the shelves, bagged their groceries and escorted them to the check-out to receive their Thanksgiving turkey.

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IMAG3794 Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives Here

Charley Belcher of Fox 13 assists shoppers.

IMAG3804 Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives HereFor some, the bags of groceries brought tears of joy.  For others, it brought tears of sadness and desperation.  No matter what tears they cried, I comforted them with prayers and wished them a happy holiday.  The warms hugs and kind words were far more appreciated than the organic canned items and low in sugar cereals.

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Note to self: When donating items to food banks, give non-perishable items like Green Giant, Stove Top, Betty Crocker and Swanson.  Even food secure families prefer name brands. Organic items aren’t very popular.  The recipients also want comfort foods like Kraft Mac and Cheese, instant mashed potatoes and sugary cereals, such as Froot Loops.  It might make your cringe to buy it and donate it, but you are making someone else really happy by giving them want they want.

IMAG3810 Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives Here

IMAG3805 Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives Here

IMAG3793 Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives Here

Metropolitan Ministries estimates that over 20,000 Tampa Bay families will need assistance this holiday season with my corner of Tampa Bay having the greatest need as donations are down in my county.  After my working shift at Metropolitan Ministries, I wanted to do more than simply giving a few cans of food and helping guests shop.

As part of #givingTuesday Mom It Forward and Tampa Bay Bloggers initiative, I hosted a canned good drive to benefit Metropolitan Ministries.  An impromptu playdate at the park, a few moms and I collected 60 items to donate.

IMAG3848 Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives Here

Like so many food banks and homeless shelters, the Metropolitan Ministries is struggling this season.  Please consider donating toys and canned goods at your local Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent drop off location.  To find a Metropolitan Ministries drop-off site near you, visit

Or consider, making a monetary donation to offer meals to those in need.  With your contribution, the Metropolitan Ministries can serve 589,686 meals this holiday season.

IMAG3809 Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent: Hope Lives Here

30 Days of Giving – 2012

Having participating in the 30 Day Giving Challenge for four years now, the challenge has become such an integral part of the holidays, equally important as the turkey and its fixings in November.  To some, it may appear as a huge chore or extra burden to take on during the holidays, but honestly, giving is the easy part.

As a mom, my day revolves around caring for others, however, during this challenge, I find myself daily redirecting my attention to people large and small outside my nuclear family.  I wake up each morning and ask myself, “How can I give to someone today?  What can I do to let someone know they are valued and loved?  How can I make a stranger smile?”

In noble attempt, I try to plan the days, but of course, life gets in the way.  I’ve learned to be flexible and go with the flow of life and let the cards gifts fall where they may.

Here are the 30 gifts my children and I gave this year.

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 30 Days of Giving   2012

 30 Days of Giving   2012

    • Purchased a meal ticket at my supermarket to benefit a needy family.
    • Volunteered at my kids’ school and contributed to a Thanksgiving feast.
    • Gave the gift of humility by wearing a purple mustache on my Facebook profile to benefit Slash the Stache and promote epilepsy awareness and the Slash the Stache fundraiser.
    • Texted “RESEARCH” to 501501 to make a $10 donation to CURE and epilepsy research.

%2527stache 30 Days of Giving   2012

  • Provided and delivered a Thanksgiving meal to a family need.
  • Volunteered at a water station at the Women’s Half Marathon.
  • Donated new clothes and toys to Metropolitan Ministries.
  • Purchase toys at the Dollar Store to benefit Operation Home Front.
  • Donated gently used running shoes to needy high school track students.
  • Sent a Thanksgiving card to my grandmother.
  • Purchased a Hanukah gift for a family in need.
  • Gave baked cookies and a thank you note to my kids’ teachers.
  • Downloaded O Holy Night performed by Ladywell Primary School from iTunes to raise money for meningitis research.
  • Downloaded Happy Hanukah performed by Matisyahu from amazon to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims.
  • Purchased meal vouchers for families in need through Groupon’s Feeding America program.
  • Sent $10 egifts to my Facebook friends via Feed It Forward program.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Allana’s Compassion in Action

“Look, Mom!  My shirt matches the sign!”  Allana proudly exclaimed when she spotted wings on the Angel Crossing sign.

 Allanas Compassion in Action

A few days before Christmas, Allana and I volunteered at the Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent.  It was a wonderful learning experience for her as she saw firsthand how our donations to the food bank help others.  Allana enjoyed helping the families and throughout the evening she often commented on the graciousness and cuteness of the children.

 Allanas Compassion in Action

A couple weeks later, I realized just how much the experience impacted Allana when my friend made some remarks about her high school students’ poor their hygiene.  I didn’t know Allana had heard my friend’s comments until she chimed in, “Well maybe they’re homeless and they don’t have any running water.  Maybe they live in their cars.  You really shouldn’t judge, because you just never know someone’s situation.”

Our short time volunteering had a big impact Allana but at that moment, I learned something too.  My daughter is growing into a truly beautiful, compassionate human being.

30 Days of Giving 2011

125givinga 30 Days of Giving 2011For the third year now, I participated in the 30 Days of Giving Challenge.  The act of giving may not seem like a challenge, but it actually requires quite a bit of scheduling and planning.  Even with all the planning, situations pop up to cause a bump or two on the road to giving.

Some gifts are simple, like a mailing a card to a loved one.  Some things require more work, like preparing a meal for friend.  In the end, no matter how small or big, it’s the thought that counts and that gesture means so much to someone else.  The smallest gift can have the biggest impact on others.

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”  – Aesop

Our gifts

 30 Days of Giving 2011

 30 Days of Giving 2011

    • Donated canned goods to a food drive.
    • Donated items to Goodwill.
    • Recycled my old running shoes to benefit the homeless through Fit Niche.
    • Filled shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

 30 Days of Giving 2011

    • Brought gifts to a local animal rescue shelter.
    • Dropped spare change in the Salvation Army red kettle.
    • Donated items to Toys for Tots.
    • Bought a coffee for a frequent play date host in my moms group.
    • Sent coupons to a military base in Japan through Overseas Coupon Program.

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    • Added a love note to my kids’ lunch boxes.
    • Planned a picnic lunch for my kids and enjoyed a “special” lunch together at school.
    • Planned a lunch date with hubby.
    • Baked cookies for the firefighters.
    • Volunteered at my children’s school.
    • Arranged guest speakers for the Great American Teach-In at my kids’ school.

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    • Spent an evening with an old friend to catch up to give the gift of time.
    • Baked cookies for my running club and tossed $5 in the coffee fund.
    • Welcomed new neighbors of a 16 month old with a baby safety kit.
    • Sent a “thinking of you card” and Publix gift card on behalf of my moms group to a friend in need.
    • Mailed a set of hand drawn Angry Birds by Allana to Stacy Uncorked for Princess Nagger’s birthday.

 30 Days of Giving 2011

    • Mailed a Thanksgiving card to my grandmother.
    • Mailed a get well card to my ill uncle.
    • Brought a home cooked meal to a friend at work.
    • Purchased meal vouchers for families in need through Groupon’s Feeding America program.
    • Sent $10 gift certificates to several friends via’s “Feed It Forward” program.

Pssst!  Speaking of gifts….Don’t miss this one!

XmasOrnamentXchange 1 30 Days of Giving 2011

In My Life

 In My LifeFor the past year, I’ve worked extremely hard on repairing some broken relationships.  It took a lot of patience, trust, honesty and understanding to rebuild those relationships, but it was so worth it.  Now, my life is full of laughter rather than pain.

Or so I thought.  As I expended my energy into one relationship, other relationships unraveled because I hadn’t been as plugged into some big events as I should have been.  My lack of presence and support was perceived as a lack of empathy.

When I heard I let my sister and friends down for various reasons, it stopped me dead in my tracks.  Somehow between running around after my family and running in races, I had missed some important events and it’s not like me to not be there for loved ones.  However in these incidences, I wasn’t and I hurt them terribly.  When I heard I let them down, I cried for weeks.

Even now, the pain I know I caused brings tears to my eyes. I live a rich life because of my family and friends. Their relationships are bountiful blessings. Without them, my life would be empty and lonely.

Somehow I have to find balance between my own family, my extended family on both sides and my friends.That’s why I am so grateful for the 30 Day Challenge, because it forces me to stop and remember everything and everyone that is important in my life, whether it’s spending time with them or sending them a note to say, “I love you. I appreciate you in my life.”

Of course with schedules, it’s hard to coordinate time to spend together, but we’ll make it happen.  And for that, I’m thankful.



For the next four Music Mondays, I’ll be counting my blessings through song.  Each week in November, I will be singing my praises and giving thanks by sharing a song that symbolizes one of the many blessings in my life.  Come count your blessings with me and link up while you’re here.  What a blessing that would be!

 In My Life

Visit Xmas Dolly and Hairbows & Guitar Picks for more Music Monday fun.

Xmas Ornament Xchange

XmasOrnamentXchange 1 Xmas Ornament XchangeIt’s the gift giving season around the world and the joy of giving is the air.  Let’s spread some of that gift giving joy in the blogosphere with an ornament swap!

For this Xmas Ornament Xchangepurchase or make an ornament valued up to $5 and be ready to ship it to somewhere in the United States at the close of the linky party (December  11)

To make this Xmas Ornament Xchange more meaningful, send an ornament that reflects what Christmas feels like in your corner of the world.  Your ornament should represent your hometown.  Do you have white Christmases or do you build sandy snowmen?  When Santa visits your home, would he wear a red velvet suit or hibiscus Bermuda shorts?  Be creative and think outside of the ornament box.

To sign up for our first Xmas Ornament Xchange, add your name/blog title and blog url to the linky party belowThen, fill out the Xmas Ornament Xchange form.  By adding your link and submitting a form, you promise to fulfill your commitment to this gift exchange.  Please do not send your gift late or fail to send one at all.

Then, promote the Xmas Ornament Xchange in a blog post.  The more, the merrier!  Add the Xmas Ornament Xchange button to your site and link back to Run DMT.  Encourage others to link up and join the fun!

The linky party will stay open from November 20 to December 11. 

 Xmas Ornament Xchange

Fill out the Xmas Ornament Xchange mailing address form here!

***To respect your privacy, the information collected on the form will only be used for this gift swap and deleted after the close of the gift swap.  Only the sender assigned to you will know your mailing address. ***

Working the Women’s Half Marathon

I hadn’t planned to run the Women’s Half Marathon this year since Space Coast Marathon falls a week later.    Then, I heard my friends at Suncoast Running sponsored two water stations at this Women’s Half Marathon and needed about 3 dozen people to help work the stations.  I jumped at the chance to be part of a race without the training and roped my friends, Chrissy, Faith, Michelle and Raffi into helping too.

2011 11 20 07 42 41 449 Working the Womens Half Marathon

I have always wanted to give back to the sport that has given me so much.

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I loved witnessing the different emotions (joy, elation, pain and exhaustion) as a spectator.  I had felt those emotions many times.  Sometimes all those emotions in one race.

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We cheered and celebrated their victories while serving them water with smiles.

2011 11 20 07 48 25 112 Working the Womens Half Marathon

For me, working the water stations at the Women’s Half Marathon was far more enjoyable than running it and I would definitely do it again, if they’ll have me.  Hopefully, I didn’t scare anyone with my crazy pimp hat dumping feathers in anyone’s water or my loud mouth boisterous cheers and praise.

2011 11 20 07 49 04 212 Working the Womens Half Marathon

*Droid photo submitted to*

iPhoneography e1301666771163 Working the Womens Half Marathon

GoneBananasSnapshotSunday Working the Womens Half MarathonSIMC Working the Womens Half Marathon


Random Thoughts about Some Challenges, My Heeling Process and a Footnote

For the month of October, I committed to the Unprocessed Challenge and by doing so, I swore off processed foods.  Basically, participants had to refrain from eating foods they couldn’t reproduce, bake or cook themselves, such as foods that can only be produced in a factory.   Thankfully, store-bought beer and wine were acceptable.

Seriously?  In October?  What was I thinking?  I freaking love candy corn and other Halloween candy.  I think I ate even more of it because I knew I couldn’t on account of the challenge.  It was tough and I think I lasted (at most) two weeks.  And then I devoured some Tyson hot wings.

For November, I’m participating in the 30 Day Giving Challenge for the third year.  I love this challenge, but I’m not going to lie.  It’s hard, even when I plan out all my gifts for the month, because schedules change, kids gets sick and sometimes things just don’t always go according to plan.  I’ve done well though and I’ve given 15 gifts and then some in 15 days so far.

Speaking of gifts, my t-shirt giveaway didn’t attract as many people as other giveaways have in the past.  I tweeted, Facebooked, linked up at giveaway blog hops but still only 4 people entered the contest, including my SIL, Kirsten and my friend, Chrissy, who won as a result to all her entries.  Obviously, she had the best chance, which is what you hope for when hosting a giveaway.

srshirtgiveaway21 Random Thoughts about Some Challenges, My Heeling Process and a Footnote

Has anyone else noticed a drop in giveaway participants?

I had this whole 12 Days of Christmas giveaway plan in the works, but after this giveaway, I’m rethinking the idea.  It’s a lot of work and if it doesn’t generate a response, I’ll be disappointed.  Oh well.  But I’ve got other fun bloggie Christmas plans in the works, like a blogger ornament exchange and a virtual cookie recipe swap!  Stay tuned for more details!

This Sunday, as part of my giving challenge, I’m volunteering at the Women’s Half Marathon water stations with Suncoast Running.  I’m so excited to give back to a sport that has given me so much.  I’m looking forward to cheering and encouraging all the runners while handing them a cup of cold water with a smile.  It will mean the world to each participant, whether it’s their first half marathon or the fiftieth.

Do you remember that almost 21 miler I did a couple of weeks ago with little to no pain?  I even survived walking around Universal Studios the next day (minus a hamstring pull from 25 pound toddler squats all day).  Then, I didn’t run for two days to rest.  I ran about 3 miles on Tuesday and then on Wednesday, I ran almost 10 miles.  And that’s when it all went downhill.

I had some serious heel pain, like my heel was being stabbed with a knife.  I’ve never had this pain before, but I knew it wasn’t good.  I researched about heel pain and learned that I have heel spurs possibly as a result from increasing miles too quickly or running in old shoes (shoes without support). I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter because I’ve been pretty careful to not push myself too far too quickly.

As for healing my heel, everything I’ve read recommends taking a week off from running.  But, my marathon is in 12 days12 DAYS!  And I can’t run or even taper!

So now, I need new shoes.  But new shoes need to be broken in before I attempt to run 26.2 miles in them.  Plus, I don’t have any extra cash at the moment and I was really hoping Santa would bring me some new running shoes.  My friends over at Suncoast Running told me that they will have some great Black Friday specials. But I’m still nervous about running a marathon in new shoes.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) will be a week since I last ran and it still hurts to walk or put any pressure on my right heel.  I tried some light hiking when we went camping over the holiday weekend and the pain would gradually increase.  I’ve read that I can do alternate work-outs like cycling or very low impact aerobics, but I don’t think my heel could handle any impact.  Plus, I’m still scared to get back on my bike.  So resting and yoga is the plan for a few more days until I get some new shoes.  It seems my running plans have become a footnote and I’m not liking it all.

Oh and there’s this other nagging other issue I keep forgetting to do.  I haven’t booked a hotel room for the race yet.  I know. I know.  What am I waiting for?  I was waiting until I registered, which was delayed until I knew I could come close to a marathon distance again post-baby number 3.  Well, I’m officially registered (as of October 22) for the Space Coast Marathon and now I can’t find an available room.  But it doesn’t matter really because it appears that I will have to buy shoes instead of a securing a hotel room.  Looks like I’ll be sleeping in my car the night before the marathon. Yay.

As you can see, lots of challenges lie ahead this month.

willruncardboardsign1 Random Thoughts about Some Challenges, My Heeling Process and a Footnote

*Proudly submitted to Stacy Uncorked, because when I blog about my training, it’s usually pretty random.*

randomtuesday Random Thoughts about Some Challenges, My Heeling Process and a Footnote

You Down with OCP? Yeah, You Know Me.

Recently, I stumbled upon a coupon program for military families living on bases overseas.  Through OCP, you “adopt” a military base and send them your coupons.  Donated coupons can be two months past their expiration date because retailers allow military families to redeem expired coupons up to 6 months past their expiration date.

With the knowledge of this coupon program, I organized a collection for my moms group.  Once again my moms pulled through and I was overwhelmed by the response.

 You Down with OCP? Yeah, You Know Me.

I wish I knew the monetary value of all these coupons.  The OCP states on their website that “the average Sunday newspaper contains approximately $125 worth of coupons.”  Based on that and a rough estimate, I’d say there about $4000 worth of coupons in this pile.  Amazing.

I’m so proud of my mamas!  It feels so good to be able to help military families, especially so close to Patriot Day (September 11).

30-Day Giving Challenge

125givinga 30 Day Giving ChallengeToday begins Day 1 of the 30 Day Giving Challenge.  My family and I participated last November and we are thrilled and excited to be participating in this challenge again this season.


Like last year, the girls and I will be making our cornucopia placemats so that they can record, admire and treasure their gifts of giving for years to come.  And also like year, I will share our gifts by tweeting and posting them on Facebook.  I believe it inspired many of my friends and followers to take on the challenge as well.


However, this year I’ve decided to have Allana and Emmalynn help plan our 30 Days of Giving to make the experience more meaningful for them.  Using the calendar on the 30 Day Giving Challenge website, I’ll ask the girls what they would like to give and record their ideas on the calendar.


For Day 1, the girls have chosen to bring their Halloween candy to our dentist, who will donate candy to the troops through Operation Gratitude.


Where some might view this challenge too extreme or too difficult, I found we gave more than 30 gifts by the end of the challenge.  It’s such a rewarding experience and I encourage you to take on the challenge with my family and me.  Keep it simple and you’ll see how simple it is to give.  If you need some “gift ideas”, read through my list here for some suggestions.


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