The holidays can be a tough time for a lot of Manatee County residents, and it’s the time when food pantries are hit the hardest as families try to deliver a holiday family meal with little resources to spare.
Since 1987, the Mayor’s Feed the Hungry program has collected more than 200 tons of food and more than $200,000 in food gift cards, which are distributed to the hungry across Manatee and Sarasota counties.
The annual drive is currently underway and helps ease the burdens facing local families while providing relief to the hard-hit pantries that serve the community. Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant and Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, as well the mayors of Longboat Key, North Port, Sarasota and Venice, join together to promote the program.
There are too many times that these things aren’t passed out in a way that truly shares across the community, but this program makes sure that happens.
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston
“We do all we can to promote it as hard as we can,” said Poston, who along with Police Chaplain Don Sturiano discussed the program on the Christian Television Network and Manatee Educational Television. Those programs will air frequently up until the holidays. Though the mayors are the face of the program, the food drive is manned by volunteers.
Bryant said those volunteers do the brunt of the work in collecting the food and delivering the items to a central location for distribution to various agencies in the community. Bryant said the program is important, “Because there are so many people that are suffering that do not have enough to eat. I think it’s a program that just does the right thing by those in our community.”
In Bradenton, food bins for drop off are available during regular business hours at city hall, 101 Old Main St., the Bradenton Police Department, 100 10th St. W., and Central Fire Station, 1010 Ninth Ave. W. Bins also are located at Manatee Memorial Hospital, 206 Second St. E. The food drive ends in Bradenton on Nov. 17.
“It’s an important program,” Poston said. “We have so many people who have gone through hard times that are temporarily homeless. These are people that are not professional homeless and really need the helping hand, and this goes directly to them. There are too many times that these things aren’t passed out in a way that truly shares across the community, but this program makes sure that happens.”
Poston said the items collected in this food drive truly help real families get back on their feet, “and helps these families have a normal holiday that otherwise wouldn’t have it. I think that’s the real value in it.”
I think it’s a program that just does the right thing by those in our community.
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant
Food bins in Palmetto are located at city hall, 516 Eighth Ave. W., and the Palmetto Police Department, 1115 10th St. W., during regular business hours from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. The food drive ends in Palmetto on Nov. 18.
Palmetto schools also are involved in the challenge. Virtually every school in the city participates in the program. Last year, Palmetto Charter School issued a challenge to students to collect 1,300 cans in order to slime their principal. When the students reached their goal, Bryant agreed to join in on getting slimed if they reached 1,500.
“I got slimed pretty good,” Bryant said. “I had to ride in the back of a pickup truck to get home.”
Items of importance are canned goods and packaged foods such as soup, meat, tuna, vegetables, peanut butter, jelly, fruit, spaghetti sauce, pie filling, condensed milk, cranberry sauce, rice, noodles, dried beans, spaghetti, cereal, hamburger helper, instant potatoes, stuffing mix and powered milk. Monetary donations also are welcome and all food and dollars collected stays in the local community. Monetary donations can be sent to Mayors’ Feed the Hungry Program, P.O. Box 1992, Sarasota 34230-1992.
Scott Biehler, vice chairman of the Mayor’s Feed the Hungry program, said there are 330 locations across the area that are collecting food. Volunteers are needed on Nov. 18 to help sort the food at Ed Smith Stadium, 2700 12th St., in Sarasota at any time between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.