MANATEE -- To make sure there is enough food on the shelves to last the summer, community leaders and the local food bank Wednesday launched the 2014 Grand Challenge for businesses and organizations to bring in 1,000 pounds of food or raise $1,000 during June.
This annual effort was held in September previously, but leaders want to ensure the 23rd Avenue East food bank warehouse is stocked for the summer.
"We've seen a great need in our community," said Cindy Sloan, director of the Food Bank of Manatee for more than six years. "We know the need will increase during the summer."
Sloan said those seeking help from the food bank are not only those without income.
"Even those people who have jobs (come for assistance)," she said. "Their pay just is not going up with the cost of food."
Community need doubled in the year-and-a-half Lenworth Gordon has been director of the food pantry at Church of Hope, 1706 Ninth St. W., Palmetto, where more than 210 families receive help each week.
"If they didn't have the food pantry," Gordon said. "They wouldn't make it. They're on the verge of homelessness."
Mary Nobles said she depends on the church pantry to make it through the month.
"I only have Social Security and a small pension," Nobles said, "and when you have bills to pay you have to stretch the budget to buy food."
The 73-year-old Nobles worked all her life and did not have a problem when she retired at 65.
"The first few years of retirement was wonderful," she said, "but as time went on expenses went up."
Nobles said she is grateful for the help she receives and is going to start volunteering at the church.
JoAnna Erickson, co-pastor with her husband, Steve, at The Church Without Limits, said they started the food pantry at the church, 2209 75th St. W., to fill the need on the west side of the county.
"People started telling us they had to travel 5 to 10 miles to get to a food pantry," Erickson said. "We found there is need in all the neighborhoods."
She said they help people from all walks of life -- working families, single parents and people who just need help for a couple weeks.
"There are a lot of working people who just can't make it through the end of the month," the pastor said.
The church food pantry started serving about 60 families in October, she said, but now helps as many as 200 families.Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore expanded those numbers countywide.
"More than 50,000 Manatee County residents don't have a steady source of meals and 18,000 of them are kids," said Whitmore, who started the Grand Challenge with Manatee County School Board Chairwoman Julie Aranibar, "Our community is too kind to let this happen."
Information: foodbankofmanatee.org or call 941-747-3663.