MANATEE -- Mountains of canned goods and frozen turkeys were delivered Sunday for the needy as part of the 4th Annual "Stuff the Bus" benefit.
Generous givers at 14 Publix Super Markets filled Manatee County school buses over the weekend with more than 130,000 pounds of goods.
The amount of donations was more than 30,000 pounds more than last year's total of 100,000 pounds, they said.
The haul was delivered to The Food Bank of Manatee for distribution to the less fortunate through more than 100 partner agencies, officials said.
"The perishable items will go out right away -- the turkeys -- but the cans could last until spring," said Maribeth Phillips, chief executive officer at Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, which operates the food bank at 811 23rd Ave. E., Bradenton.
Although the food bank has been giving away about 300,000 pounds of food per month, requests from agencies who work with those in need "definitely increases over the holidays," she said.
In addition to canned donations, she also got cash and checks from people who happened to see the buses, which were parked in Publix parking lots and manned by volunteers.
"Everybody at Publix was very excited about it," she said.
Once the buses were full, they dropped the goods at the food bank, where volunteers waited to unload them.
"This is our community opportunity to give back," said Brian McKnight, 42, a teacher and coach at Southeast High School, who, along with many of the school's students, was helping to unload Sunday.
"So, there are a few people in this area who do care," he added.
Tropicana Products, Inc. donated boxes and also loaned its forklifts to speed the unloading process.
The benefit began as an idea from a few employees in the Manatee County School District's transportation department, and is now among the
largest community efforts to help feed children and families in need, said Scott Martin, assistant superintendent for district support.
"We know that when you reach out a hand to one, you influence the condition of all," said Philip A. Brown III, president of United Way of Manatee County, which also participated in the effort.
Another who was unloading buses at the food bank was Deicy Jacinto, 20, a political science major at State College of Florida. She was with a group from the Full Gospel Holiness Church.
"We came to help our organization, we help others," she said. "This is something our parents have taught us: To always give back to the community and help others in need."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.