That generous spirit that shines in this community so well is being called on to once again to come out in droves with bags of groceries for the working poor, the destitute, the homeless — some of whom could be your neighbors who suffer in silence, shameful of their troublesome circumstances.
The shelves of the Food Bank of Manatee are literally bare. There’s no food at the inn.
Our benevolent snowbird friends are gone, and their charitable souls are sorely missed. The Food Bank, operated by Meals on Wheels PLUS, received more than 61,000 pounds of food donations this past January, but contributions plunged to a bit more than 16,600 pounds in June. The summertime drop-off in both food and monetary donations is a common but frustrating situation.
The Food Bank is once again urging the community to lend a helping hand, appealing to businesses, clubs, civic organizations and residents to either collect 1,000 pounds of food or $1,000 in cash. We enthusiastically join that appeal, launched earlier this month under the slogan, “White Out Summer Hunger” — pretty much a nod to our departed snowbird friends. (The Herald, like countless other businesses, has a food donation barrel in its reception area, certainly open to public donations.)
Hunger knows no neighborhood boundaries. Ask anyone who volunteers at Manatee County’s many food pantries. They, along with the Food Bank of Manatee, hand out food to thousands and thousands of children, families and individuals. The Food Bank is the central distributor of all that vital nutrition, serving more than 100 food pantries, soup kitchens and social service agencies here in Manatee County. The Food Bank is a lifeline to many of these working poor or destitute families. Just that number — over 100 food pantries — spotlights the plight of many of our fellow residents. As we mentioned, that could be one of your neighbors, not some faceless person elsewhere.
There are so many reasons to contribute food to the hungry — too numerous to enumerate here — but perhaps one is most profound. Most underfed children lack the mental capacity to attain what should be their potential. Hunger starves the brain, just like the body. Intelligence must be nurtured with both physical and mental nourishment.
The Manatee County School District knows that well, serving up a summertime meal to thousands of children who otherwise would likely go hungry. Incredibly, the district’s Food and Nutrition Services Department hands out an average of 6,000 meals a day at 17 schools, 30 community centers and two buses. Since this invaluable service began in 2008, the district reached the one millionth mark in meals served, a remarkable total but one that reflects the critical food deficit out in the community.
The Food Bank has been partnering with Manatee County Public Libraries, too, to hand out food bags on Fridays to children — through Aug. 5, just ahead of the beginning of the school year. The idea is to ensure some weekend nutrition is available. Hundreds of bags have been distributed on each of those Fridays. (Books, too, to feed the mind.)
Research proves that good nutrition, especially in the first three years of life, is essential for a child’s future physical and mental health as well as academic and economic success. Anyone needing just a shred of proof that hunger is all too common among families and individuals in Manatee County need look no further than this one statistic: The number of homeless children attending public schools is higher than the district estimate of 1,800. But the Food Bank estimates about 20,000 school-aged children in the county to hungry during the summer break, using figures from the school district.
The school system already serves free breakfast and lunch during school days and also dishes up lunches during the summer — to give children at least one nutritious meal a day.
As is common must about every summer, the shelves at the food bank — which distributes goods to the kitchens around the county – are now bare. Your help is critical now. Just a bag with cereal, canned soup, canned vegetables, peanut butter — any nonperishable items — would be gladly accepted.
Want to help? Visit www.foodbankmanatee.com or call Volunteer Services at 941-747-3663.