Shelves bare at Food Bank of Manatee - again

August 13, 2013 

Bare shelves reflect the shortage of provisions at Food Bank of Manatee. Vin Mannix/Bradenton Herald

Summertime is historically a tough time on the Food Bank of Manatee County. The need is greater as children in poverty-stricken homes are out of school and no longer benefiting from free lunch programs and other nutritional assistance. The supply is lower without donations from snowbirds and Floridians vacationing out of town.

Cindy Sloan called attention to the hunger among the homeless, the unemployed and the poor struggling to exist in her letter to the editor almost a month ago, imploring people to contribute food or money.

As director of the food bank, she knows the plight of hunger very well and the statistics that reveal how deep the problem continues to be: More than 40,000 Manatee County residents live in poverty and some 2,000 schoolchildren are homeless.

The official 2010 U.S. Census indicated that more than one in five students in the Manatee County school district — ages 5 to 17 years old — lived in poverty that year.

The nonprofit provides food to more than 100 food pantries, churches, soup kitchens and other agencies serving families in crisis — including infant care baskets for newborns and the elderly unable to provide pet food to their companions.

We checked in with the Food Bank of Manatee County this week, and other statistics spotlight the glaring gap in stock on the shelves. In July, the food bank delivered 282,944 pounds of food to all those good samaritan organizations. But the bank only took in 6,616 pounds of food from public donations.

Manatee County Commissioners Carol Whitmore and Terry Wells, chairman of the board of Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee, the food bank’s parent organization, also chimed in with public appeals in the past few weeks, and the food bank is on pace to exceed July’s poundage total.

To date this month, the food bank has received 6,500 pounds from the public — a good response from those donation requests. Over the same time span, though, the agency has doled out 95,020 pounds of food to the unemployed, the working poor and other struggling families.

We heartily echo this message to us from the chief executive of Meals on Wheels PLUS, Maribeth Phillips: “We are most grateful to those who have read the letters to the editor and have donated food and funds to help us stock the shelves. We continue to appeal to our community to donate to the Food Bank, so we in turn can help fight hunger in Manatee County.”

While the organization is planning a Grand Challenge food drive in September — asking area groups, organizations and businesses to raise 1,000 pounds or $1,000 or a combination of the two — the need is more immediate.

Infant formula, diapers and baby wipes are an urgent need. Peanut butter, cereal, pasta, rice, beans, boxed dinners, canned tuna and chicken as well as other non-perishable items — and monetary donations­ — are welcome.

Food can be delivered to the food bank, 811 23rd Ave. E.; at Renaissance at 9th, 1816 Ninth St. W.; or at any of the many donation barrels around the county. For additional information and other donation drop-off sites, call Cindy Sloan at 941-747-FOOD (3663).

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