When members of two local Elks clubs realized there were hundreds of local students with no food to eat over the weekends, they got busy and did something about it.
"This is a travesty, we can't let that happen," Jeff Mitchell, with Bradenton Elks No. 1511, said when the club realized the needs of an estimated 1,600 homeless students in Manatee schools.
So the group along with Lakewood Ranch-Sarasota Elks No. 2855 began providing backpacks a year and a half ago filled with food for 500 students at 10 Title 1 schools across the county.
Each weekend, each student took home enough food for two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners along with snacks like peanut butter, canned fruit and vegetables.
Wednesday their efforts were recognized at the 22nd annual Business/Education Partnership Awards Breakfast sponsored by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce at Freedom Village where the two clubs received the Partner in Excellence Award.
Mitchell remembers one student telling his sibling, "Wow, we actually get to eat this weekend."
He has a scrapbook of letters kids have written, thanking the Elks for their efforts.
The Elks don't look for publicity or expect to rest on their laurels.
The two clubs plan to add another school to their list -- Ballard Elementary -- this fall, pushing the number of students helped to 600. Mitchell is also working with some auxiliary groups who are helping about 400 more.
"This program won't stop until everyone is fed," Mitchell said. The group received a standing ovation from the more than 100 school and business leaders who attended the event.
The annual awards recognize dozens of businesses in 12 different categories. There are more than 275 local businesses involved in giving back to local schools in the program.
Another tearful moment came when Dudley Leigh, magnet coordinator for Lee Middle School, presented the Special One-Time Project Award to David Bartley Imaging for the company's involvement with Lee Middle School in developing a promotions and public relations campaign for the school.
"It was a gift of renewal," Leigh said. "David used his creativity and talent to create a campaign that led so many families to our door." Leigh, through tears, said
Bartley, who died in March of brain cancer, never lived to see the results.
"He saw a need and he wanted to do it," she said. "It wasn't important for him to get publicity. He was so excited after seeing the school. He said he knew he would have flourished here as a kid. He did it for the joy of doing it."
Bartley used his marketing talents to get school leaders to focus on what made Lee Middle special so they could sell it as a school of choice, Leigh said.
"We are the only public magnet visual and performing arts middle school," she said.
As a result, Lee Middle has become the most selected public middle school of choice in the county with record enrollment and waiting lists.
"He made us realize it's the image you project to others," Leigh said.