Travelers Aid calls for more volunteers as it aims to expand in 2022
The team of volunteers working with Travelers Aid have assisted countless passengers in their decades at TPA.
Imagine you’re by yourself, traveling with small children and you start getting sick—really sick. That was the case for a single mom on her way through Tampa International Airport last year. With her crying kids in tow, she was directed to the Travelers Aid both on the ticketing level where volunteers immediately jumped in to help.
They brought a chair out for the mother to sit in and had toys on hand to help occupy her young children. They even provided and toothbrush and toothpaste so she could freshen up after getting ill.
Stories like these are not uncommon for the Travelers Aid team. It’s why they exist.
“It feels so nice to help people,” said longtime Travelers Aid coordinator Beverly Thompson. “It’s why people volunteer.”
The Travelers Aid booth has been a mainstay at the airport for over 37 years, but the service is not unique to Tampa.
Travelers Aid International has a history dating back to the 1800’s when programs were formed in major U.S. cities, specifically to provide protection for women and girls who traveled alone from train stations.
In 1851, Bryan Mullanphy, a philanthropist and former mayor of St. Louis donated $500,000 to be used to assist “bona fide travelers heading west.”
And with that, one of the nation's oldest social welfare movements began.
Today, the Travelers Aid program at TPA is run through the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
In December, Signature Flight Support, a Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) at TPA, handed over a $10,000 donation, which was matched by the airport to keep the program up and running for 2022.
“Travelers Aid does something very special and very unique,” said Crisis Center of Tampa Bay President Clara Reynolds. “That investment truly does ensure no one has to face crisis alone.”
A total of 40 volunteers work together to ensure the booth is staffed seven days a week, 365 days a year. In 2022, Reynolds says the organization hopes to expand its mission by adding more bi-lingual volunteers and expanding their hours later into the evening for passengers traveling through the airport at night.
“We want to be able to add evenings especially for when the international flights are coming in,” said Reynolds. “We want to be able to stay open until at least 7p.m., seven days a week.”
The organization estimates assisting as many as 23,000 passengers a year.
The booth is stocked with all types of supplies travelers might need. From diapers and toiletries, to Ziplock bags filled with snacks or even small toys and teddy bears for upset children.
“Right now, face masks are the number one item we’re giving out,” said Thompson who opened up a plastic bin filled with disposable masks which were donated by FEMA. “We’ve given out 170 today.”
Current volunteers range in age from 20-84 years-old and the organization is always looking for more help.
“Right now we have about 40 volunteers that work 3 and a half hour shifts. We’d like to get that number up to 50 or more so we can have people here later,” said Thompson.
People can also help by providing donations, either in the form of cash or supplies. New blankets, baby bottles, diapers or toys are all items Travelers Aid could use for those in need of a helping hand at the airport.
The booth even has mailing supplies for passengers who wind up at the airport with something they can’t take through security.
“We’ll mail it back home for them so they don’t have to throw it away or miss their flight.”
Reynolds says employees who work at the airport can also play a huge role in the Travelers Aid mission.
“It’s important for people working at the airport to remember we’re here and know how we can help.”
She says employees can help spot passengers in need of assistance and then direct them to the Travelers Aid booth.
“Sometimes its just being aware and alert to look for people who might be in trouble,” said Reynolds. “Don’t be afraid. Be able to approach people and direct them to our booth”
Travelers Aid is currently open 7 days a week from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Hours will be expanded if more volunteers can be recruited in 2022.
Interested in volunteering? Go to https://www.crisiscenter.com/get-involved/volunteer/.