MANATEE -- Rhonda Page has never met Maribeth Phillips. Never met Marilyn Howard, Jackie Barron, Rick Mills, Vanessa Baugh or any of the officials and community leaders gathered Wednesday morning at the Food Bank of Manatee.
"I don't know anybody here," the 52-year-old grandmother said.
They know who she is.
Page's heartfelt testimony defined the mission behind Wednesday's kickoff of the Grand Challenge 2013 to refill the empty shelves of the Food Bank warehouse off Ninth Street East and U.S. 301.
A mission that got a huge liftoff thanks to the Mosaic Company Foundation and Manatee Community Foundation.
Mosaic has put up $100,000 to match community donations to the Food Bank through September. A portion of it went to match a $30,000 Manatee Community Foundation grant announced Wednesday.
"That's awesome," Page
said. "Not just for me, but for every family out there with a great need."
Recently divorced and raising two grandchildren on a part-time job, she is one of 65,000 people -- most of them working poor -- helped by the 100-plus community pantries receiving food from the Food Pantry.
The Journey Assembly of God pantry, 5017 37th St. E., has been her lifeline.
"It's an incredible blessing," Page said. "It's really hard at the end of the month to decide what do you give up? This has taken so much pressure off me and given me the freedom to be able to provide for my kids, to get school supplies or shoes or clothes.
"I'm really grateful for it and grateful to everybody and for everything they do."
Her words resonated around the room.
Many wiped away tears.
"This is so real," said Phillips, chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee, the Food Bank's parent agency. "She truly represents what this is all about."
It worked for Howard.
"This is the reason we all do what we do," said the Manatee Community Foundation executive director. "It gives us the ability to talk to folks with the wherewithal to help others and really bring it home to them."
That included Mosaic, whose matching funds figure to provide impetus to the Grand Challenge.
The drive urges area businesses, clubs and civic groups and organizations to each raise 1,000 pounds of food, $1,000 in cash or a combination of the two throughout September.
"Together we can make a difference," said Jackie Barron, Mosaic public affairs manager. "That means making sure food makes it to the dinner table of the neediest families -- families whose children sit next to ours in school."
More than 1,700 Manatee County School District students are homeless, a statistic not lost on Superintendent Rick Mills.
"It's disconcerting to see all the challenges many of our students and parents have getting by day to day," he said. "Many of our students don't eat on weekends and the only healthy meals they get are when they're in school.
"To see the difference the Food Bank is making is gratifying. We need to do more as a community for our folks."
Baugh agreed and Page's message gave her pause."You can't appreciate the need unless you've been there," the county commissioner said. "It shows we need the community to help make sure we have food for families like these."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix