LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Harvest United Methodist Church and Samoset Elementary School are nearly 14 miles apart.
The church, with its 1,200 members, is at 14305 Covenant Way, next door to Lakewood Ranch Country Club.
The school is at 3300 19th St. E., in a struggling neighborhood, where 95 percent of the children are on free or reduced lunch.
You could say they are worlds apart.
Late last year, Harvest members learned that too many of the Samoset students arrive at school hungry. Some are technically homeless.
Volunteers pitched in to start a pack-a-sack ministry to slip a little extra food discreetly into the backpacks of 60 to 80 children on Fridays to help tide them over on weekends.
The church resumed the ministry this fall.
Church volunteers will probably never see the children they help. The food is delivered to school staff who place it confidentially in backpacks of children most in need. Out of respect for those children, their classmates never know who is getting the help.
“It’s a blessing what they are doing,” said Kathye Morse, a licensed practical nurse for the Manatee County Health Department who staffs the school health clinic.
With the prolonged economic downtown, problems for families in the area have deepened, and the help is needed more than ever, Morse said.
“We really love our school and neighborhood,” said Principal Pat Stream. “We are very grateful for everything that the church has been doing for our students. They help us with our mission that every child be prepared for college one day.”
Harvest volunteers said they hope pack-a-sack will grow with the participation of other congregations, businesses and organizations. Samoset is not the only school where there is an acute need.
At Samoset, about $5,000 will fund the ministry for a year, said Misty Pope, a Harvest volunteer and mother of two.
“It breaks your heart. I can’t imagine being unable to provide for the basic needs of my children,” Pope said. “It truly takes a village. We want to help bridge that gap for these kids so that they are able to live the American dream.”
Harvest is accepting donations of nonperishable food and cash to help with the program. Canned food items should have tops that can be opened by pulling a pop top or tab.
The Rev. Catherine Fluck Price, who co-pastors Harvest with her husband, The Rev. Steven Price, says that because of the driving distance few of the children at Samoset would attend her church.
“But if that were to happen that would be wonderful,” Price said. “As a body of Christ church, we feel that we are to reach to the least, the last and the lost.”
Reaching out to Samoset, and other schools where children come from precarious backgrounds, the church can help students learn and develop properly physically, academically and emotionally, Price said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at (941) 745-7021.
IF YOU GO
What: Harvest United Methodist Church
When: Sunday worship services are at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Information: (941) 907-0733 or www.harvest-umc.org.
WANT TO HELP?
For more information about Pack-a-Sack, contact Misty Pope at (727) 687-6361 or the church office. Checks should be made out to Harvest United Methodist Church and should indicate the donation is for Pack-a-Sack. Checks may be mailed to Harvest United Methodist Church, 14305 Covenant Way, Bradenton, FL 34202.