BRADENTON -- One by one, they stopped at each crate on the table inside the First Presbyterian Church storage room, reached in for another food item, stuffed it into a backpack and moved onto the next.
A loaf of bread.
A packet of dry milk.
Another of dry soup.
A container of fruit or vegetables.
It was Friday morning and a dozen volunteers for Feeding Empty Little Tummies (F.E.L.T.) were trying to load up each backpack with enough to tide over 150 homeless students during the holidays.
Jane and Bill Evers, the nonprofit founders, kept things moving.
Fortified by donations from the community and groups like Bradenton Kiwanis, they were intent on making the most of that generosity for an important cause.
"We're just trying to get them through New Year's," she said. "No kid should be hungry any time, but not over Christmas."
Added the former mayor: "It probably won't last that long with schools closed, so we've added a bit more."
That included a stop at the van outside for a small toy car, or crayons and a coloring book to put inside the backpack, too.
Then volunteers grabbed another empty backpack and repeated the routine until each of some 150 were filled and stacked for deliver to designated elementary schools.
A pile for Bashaw.
Another for Oneco.
Another for Samoset.
There were 11 stacks in all.
"These kids touched my heart," volunteer Dick Moore said. "The holidays are for kids. They don't have what other kids have and they're coming to school hungry on Mondays. That's not right. They should have food, whatever little we can give them."
It was a dent in a problem that includes 1,000 to 1,600 homeless Manatee County students, most of them elementary school age.
They and their families live in cheap motels, campsites and even cars and trucks.
"Kids living in cars or whatever? That's tragic," volunteer Brenda Hughes said. "In this affluent society, that should not happen."
But it does and volunteer Anne Ray, a retired principal up north, has seen it firsthand.
"Kids go hungry all the time in this country and people don't realize it," she said. "I don't think it's because they don't care. It's because they don't know. The bottom line is we need to take care of these kids."
The Evers couple and their supporters have managed to spread that word slowly but surely.
"It's a two-edged sword," volunteer Pat Roberts said. "On one hand it's so sad we have this awful situation, but on another hand we've had the chance to find out what good hearts the people of this community have. No one's ever said no, just what can we do to help?"
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix