Manatee Food Bank's warehouse shelves at 20 percent capacity

vmannix@bradenton.comAugust 1, 2012 

MANATEE -- It was only 10 a.m., but it had already been a long day for Cindy Sloan.

The Food Bank of Manatee director examined a fistful of order forms from 15 agencies and food banks who'd made their weekly pickup Tuesday at the nonprofit's warehouse on Ninth Street East near U.S. 301.

The towering shelves behind Sloan were mostly empty, yet she and her staff would have to provide for another 15 agencies and food pantries today, the next day and the next.

"I wish by some miracle I could multiply what we have," she said. "The need is up and donations are way down. It's more pronounced this year."

The predicament is exacerbated by a combination of factors.

Among them:

n The economy.

n The usual increase in need from families with children out of school.

n Grocery stores order less during the summer, hence have less to donate.

n A 33 percent cutback in federal funding, specifically the U.S. Department of Agriculture's buying of farm surplus that is distributed to food banks nationally.

"We were warned a year ago this was going to happen, so our USDA-donated food is down 50 percent," Sloan said. "So we don't have that, either."

What the Food Bank shelves do have are cases and cases of beverages and snacks, but the 100 agencies it serves -- 55 food pantries included -- need more variety than that for 50,000 to 60,000 people monthly.

"They're looking for pasta, dry meals, tuna ... something to make a meal with to feed families," Sloan said.

Families like the 160 to 170 Herb Townsend helps as food pantry coordinator at Palmetto's Church of Hope.

"Usually I get 36 cases a week of canned goods, dry meal, cereal ... " he said. "Now if I get 10 cases, I'm happy. It's cut down on what I can put in bags."

It's a similar situation for Terry Johnson, who helped feed 307 families in June at Palmetto's St. John Missionary Baptist Church. In July it was 486."If the Food Bank doesn't have it, that hurts," she said. "Anything we get is a great help."

So Sloan is reaching out to the Manatee County community and businesses for assistance.

The Food Bank will deliver food barrels upon request and retrieve them, too.

"I would hope for some food drives like they do during the holidays," she said. "We need to have food on a monthly basis. Hunger is 365 days a year."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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