Hope Center: Homegrown end to hunger

MANATEE — Hope Center, a food pantry located north of Palmetto, is seeking to address hunger at the backyard level.

Marvin Chenault, food pantry manager, said the pantry recently affiliated itself with, a nationwide program that seeks donations of produce grown by local gardeners and makes it available free of charge at food pantries for those down on their luck.

“Since early May, the campaign enabling America’s backyard gardeners to find, and then share their garden bounty with local food pantries, has been rolling out nationwide. Its goal is to diminish hunger in America by facilitating the donation of excess backyard garden produce that otherwise would have been left to rot in the garden,” said Gary Oppenheimer, founder of

Hope Center, 1708 Ninth St., W., Palmetto, is also preparing to launch “gardening by the bucket,” in which almost anyone can grow produce at home in a container, Chenault said.

On the grounds around the pantry, Chenault said there will be 15 “By the Bucket” areas that are 4-feet by 8-feet on which 15 families can use for six months to grow fruits and vegetables. The areas are fenced and will be doled out to families on a first-come, first-serve basis. Gutters on the front and the back of the pantry will collect rain water that runs into rain barrels and into the farming area.

Rev. Mark Cotignola, pastor of New Beginnings, a Palmetto church that launched the food bank, said Hope Center distributed 23,416 pounds of food in June.

“Our food bank has exploded,” Cotignola said.

That month, 297 people were served with an average of 79 pounds of food per person.

Chenault said the Hope Center has been serving an influx of people who are new to poverty. For example, he recently served a mother and father of a 3-year-old. He said both had lost their jobs at Disney, and had spent all of their unemployment and severance pay before losing their homes.

“The mom said, ‘This is embarrassing,” Chenault said. “It doesn’t take much to be here.”

On the last Saturday of each month, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the pantry distributes food from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Also, the pantry is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays to make distributions.

“The only requirement,” Chenault said, “that you’re hungry.”

The pantry also has baby products such as food and diapers, and various clothes.