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'Grand Challenge' to feed Manatee's hungry gets off to encouraging start

MANATEE -- Normally this time of year, the Food Bank of Manatee would have empty donor barrels sitting in its warehouse. Too many empty donor barrels.

But a week after county commissioner Carol Whitmore and school board member Julie Aranibar called a joint news conference to put the spotlight on the food bank's bare shelves, things are different.

Businesses and other organizations have snapped up all 225 barrels.

Cindy Sloan, food bank director, said 29 barrels were taken in just one week.

Normally, the only time that would happen is around Thanksgiving or Christmas, said Kristin Theisen, the food bank's vice president of development.

"That's a good thing," Theisen said of the renewed interest.

Last week, Whitmore and Aranibar announced plans for a Grand Challenge in September, asking groups and businesses to donate 1,000 pounds of food or $1,000 in cash, or a combination of the two.

With so many mouths to feed and so many households struggling to put food on the table, Whitmore called the diminished stocks at the food bank a "crisis" and "unacceptable."

Since then, the food bank has received $5,000 in cash donations, and the phones continue to ring, Sloan said.

Any business or group that would like to collect donations may call to get a marked box from the food bank, a supply of which were recently obtained to supplement the barrels.

The food bank received its largest single donation since the Whitmore-Aranibar news conference, when the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club delivered 2,501 pounds of food on Wednesday, purchased with a gift of $3,627.

Laurie Hagberg, who accompanied the delivery with fellow Rotarian Preston Olinger, said her club would like to challenge other local Rotary clubs to make a similar gift to help meet the need.

"Look around, the shelves are bare," Hagberg said.

So, how much food would be needed to fill the shelves?

"Ten times that," Theisen said of what the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club donated Wednesday.

But even at that, the demand is so great that generating new donations is a never-ending need.

Business or individuals that would like to help, may contact Cindy Sloan, food bank director, at 941-747-3663 or

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