BRADENTON -- The gifts piled neatly beneath the Christmas tree were not toys, dolls or video games for children.
Rather, they were containers of macaroni-and-cheese, tins of Vienna sausage and packages of tuna.
They were intended for 225 homeless school children and the goods would be loaded into backpacks by volunteers with Feeding Empty Little Tummies, a 3-year-old nonprofit holding an open house at its new home at 936 14th St. W.
It's a step up to try and meet a crying need.
Started by Jane and Bill Evers, FELT was essentially operated out of their home.
"Jane's kitchen table was the branch office and her dining room table was the main office," volunteer Pat Roberts said.
Their distribution center was a small garage provided by First Presbyterian Church. Then Shannon Funeral Home proprietor J. Raymond Shannon offered the vacant office property he owns for free.
"Jane looked it over and said it would be good for us," volunteer coordinator Dick Moore said. "We have three rooms for storage, a place where we can receive people in an office setting. It's going to make things much easier."
There are more than 1,500 homeless elementary school age children living in cars, campsites and cheap motels around Manatee County.
FELT works with Project HEART -- the Homeless
Education and Resource Team with the Manatee County School District -- to put a dent in a distressing problem.
When FELT began, it served students at three schools. Now its 16 schools.
"There's something about homeless hungry children that reaches right into your heart and people in this community are about giving and helping," Moore said.
During the open house, members of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers brought bags full of goods for distribution.
They were inspired by the devotion of Jane Evers, who has been ailing.
"Jane saw a problem and didn't just point it out, but she did something about it," attorney Andrea Johnson said.
Kim Bailey, hired by a benefactor as FELT's development director, approved of its new digs.
"The nice thing is everything is going to be under one roof -- advertising, grant writing, keeping up with the webpage and Facebook, as well as the warehouse," she said.
FELT hopes to have its new headquarters up and running after the holidays.
FELT is not associated with Elks Feeding Empty Little Tummies.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix