MANATEE -- Following their hearts led Joe and Mary Ann Brito to spearhead one program for one church at one school, and as a result, since 2010 more than 20 children a year at Manatee Elementary School have had lunches to eat every weekend.
"To us, we know that we're contributing and helping some children that would otherwise not have something on the weekend to eat, and hopefully it's a model that others could follow to step in and help and follow. There's such a need all over," said Joe Brito.
"We had a retired pastor and his wife who were involved in cooperative ministries. As the public became more aware of the need, I said I thought that our church could support it," said Mary Ann Brito, who
depends on their church for the support they need to provide the lunches in the "Pack-A-Sack 4 Kids" community outreach program, administered by United Methodist Cooperative Ministries/Suncoast, Inc., local school boards in Pinellas, Manatee and Pasco counties and area churches and collaborative partners.
The program helps address the program of chronic hunger among elementary aged children in public schools.
"In March of 2010, we made them for 25 children, then we went down to 20, Depending on the support, now the last two years with the emphasis on the need, people have been gracious and donated," Brito added.
Her husband has one motivation. "This is what God would have us do right now."
"Anything you can say about watching Joe and Mary Ann is that they follow their hearts," said their pastor, the Rev. Susan Schrier Clouse. "You can tell Mary Ann is passionate about hungry children, so rather than watch Mary Ann cry about it, she does something about it.
"Where you see that nudge, follow that nudge that God's spirit has put on you, and do something about it. My advice to folks is go to where you see that need," Clouse said.
Manatee Elementary clerk Michelle Grinsley doesn't know what the children who have been benefiting from the Pack-A-Sack program will be doing over the summer.
"We do have a program so they'll come and get the free lunches that they have, but past that, there's nothing on the weekends. That's just Monday through Friday," Grinsley said. "We try to do what we can, but we're kind of limited on resources, especially now."
Children's programs will be running at the church during the summer, primarily in the preschool. Vacation Bible School is a free program.
"Manatee is a church that has obviously been here a really long time. It will turn 165 next year," the pastor said. "This is a church that gets it.
"It's also a church that reaches out to the community. It's not all about what do we do here, but its what can we do to witness to the power of the love of God."
"People in this church have a heart and passion for this. The holy spirit nudges what God wants them to do and the other members offer time, money and talent to help them do what's on their hearts," Clouse said.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7024, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.