MANATEE -- A man walked up to a table filled with hot dogs under a tent manned by Church Without Limits volunteers.
Tired and hungry, he was asked if he wanted a hot dog while he stood in a long line for a box of food. He tentatively took it from an outstretched hand and graciously thanked the volunteer, saying it was the first time he had eaten in two days.
Hunger can cross both sides of the proverbial railroad tracks separating one neighborhood from the other. An illness, a lost job or just making less money can all be determining factors in what -- if anything -- is for dinner for many Bradenton residents.
"There are more than 49,000 people in Manatee County alone who are what we call 'food insecure,' meaning they aren't sure where their next meal may come from," said Cindy Sloan, Manatee County Food Bank director.
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The food bank operated by Meals on Wheels Plus has distributed about 4 million pounds of food this year through its programs and helping to fill area food bank pantries.
About 10,000 pounds of food was distributed Wednesday at the Church Without Limits, 2209 75th St. W., during a Care and Share event made possible with grants from the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund, which donated $2,000, and Peace River Electric, which donated $4,320.
Sloan said it is enough money to hold six Care and Share events (Wednesday's was the fifth) also made possible by a small army of FedEx employee volunteers.
Hundreds lined up in the circular church parking lot as and organizers worked feverishly to keep food distribution orderly. The event was to begin at 11:30 a.m. and last until 1 p.m., but food baskets of frozen turkeys, produce, bread and more ran out well before the event ended. Church volunteers scrambled to empty its own food bank pantries to ensure everyone went home with something to eat.
Sloan wasn't surprised at the turnout.
"There aren't many food banks on the west end of Bradenton," she said. "It's a blessing that we are able to come out to fulfill a need today, but also to bring awareness that there is a food bank here that fills a need that probably not a lot of people would have realized was here in this part of town."
Filling a void
The Church Without Limits food bank is one of the few food banks that distribute on a weekly basis. It opens every Wednesday from 4-6 p.m.
Pastors Steve and Johanna Erickson run the non-denominational church and the food bank, which began feeding the needy in October 2013.
"People think that on the west end of the city there isn't a hunger issue," said Steve Erickson. "But the need is everywhere."
The food bank served about 120 families its first day and now averages about 500 families a week. It has distributed 80,000 pounds of food since Jan. 1.
"People are going through hard times, and we hear their stories," said Johanna Erickson. "They come here because they've lost a job or suffered some other hardship, and it takes a couple of weeks to get approved for some of the programs available to them. People come in with tears in their eyes they are so thankful they can get something to eat while they wait for help."
Amber Crawford arrived with four members of other families who pooled resources to gas up a friend's van to come to the Care and Share event.
"It's really hard out there," she said. "It's a tough economy right now, and even with help, $137 a month in food stamps doesn't do a lot to feed a family of four. I'm so grateful and very pleased that there are people like these people who are willing to help everybody."
Everybody like an elderly man who came to a church food bank day during a winter cold snap.
"He walked in with no shoes and a raggedy shirt," said Johanna Erickson. "My husband took off his shirt and shoes and gave them to him along with a basket of food."
Steve Erickson said that's the mission of the church and the food bank.
"It's not just demonstrating the gospel, but showing them what Jesus would do if He were here today," he said.
Acts of kindness
The church got the message and tries to lay out a couple of tables of clothing for people to take with them when they come for food.
Erickson said that's why the church started its Random Acts of Kindness program, where church members commit random acts of kindness such as handing out wet naps at gas stations, taking umbrellas to Walmart on a rainy day to walk people to their cars and handing out cold water bottles at the beach on a hot day.
"There's an old saying that goes something like: 'Nobody cares how much you know until you know how much you care,' " she said.
"Having a food bank with this church is something we always wanted because we want to feed people physically and spiritually so you truly end up feeding the whole person."
Crawford agrees with the sentiment.
"People who are blessed to be working and have the money to feed their families don't understand how much this helps people," she said. "For disabled people on a fixed income and so many other situations, a place like this can be the difference between life and death."
To learn more about the food bank, how to donate or volunteer, call 941-792-2080 or visit churchwithoutlimits.com.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.