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Hunger problem a 'crisis' in Manatee County; Grand Challenge announced

MANATEE -- In January, the Food Bank of Manatee had 250,000 pounds of food on its warehouse shelves. Now, it has only 25,000 pounds.

"That's not acceptable," said County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who called a joint news conference Wednesday with School Board member Julie Aranibar to address the crisis.

Standing in front of bare food bank shelves, Whitmore and Aranibar issued a challenge for government, businesses, clubs and others to do more to fight hunger in Manatee County.

They outlined plans for a Grand Challenge, asking groups to donate 1,000 pounds or food, $1,000, or a combination of food and money.

"Make it a September to remember," said State Rep. Jim Boyd, who attended the news conference to lend his support.

Serving 100 agencies and pantries that distribute food to 60,000 people monthly, the Food Bank of Manatee was 85 percent empty on Wednesday.

"This is something that is a major emergency in Manatee County," Whitmore said.

The hunger epidemic affects families across the county, including between 2,000 and 3,000 school children who are homeless, Aranibar said.

"We have been through a tough

summer and now we are at a crossroads," Aranibar said.

The problem affects not only the homeless but the working poor, those who are employed but don't make enough money to make ends meet, said Cindy Sloan food bank director.

"At one point in my life I needed resources like this. So I understand what our families are going through. What we are dealing with now are working poor," Sloan said.

"When I have empty shelves like this and I have nothing to give them, it hurts my heart. I am up here now telling you we need help," Sloan said.

Brice Hoopingarner, owner of Keeton's Office Supply, was moved by the magnitude of the hunger problem, and brought several of his staff to the food bank on Wednesday.

As a member of the community for 61 years, Keeton's needed to be part of the solution of the hunger problem, Hoopingarner said, pledging to make his fleet of vehicles available to help pick up and deliver donations.

Whitmore, Hoopingarner and others said they were moved by reports about the problem in the Bradenton Herald and wanted to help.

In part, because of those reports, several clubs and organizations have already stepped up to help.

The Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch has pledged 3,600 pounds of food and has issued a challenge to other local Rotary Clubs to step up as well.

Also mentioned as making substantial pledges of help on Wednesday were Blalock Walters attorneys, the Lakewood Ranch Kiwanis Club, the City of Palmetto, Mosaic, and the Bradenton Herald.

For any business or individual that would like to help, contact Cindy Sloan, food bank director, at 941-747-3663 or csloan@foodbankofmanatee.org.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1

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