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Low-cost food program shut down in Florida

MANATEE — The Share Florida Food Network which has delivered low cost, high-quality food to subscribers for the past two decades announced that it is ceasing operations today. There were about half a dozen distribution sites in Manatee County.

“It is with deep regret and sadness that we are writing to inform you that Share Florida Food Network will permanently cease operation,” Share staff members announced in an e-mail to volunteers last week.

“The Share staff would like to extend a heartfelt 'thank you' to all for your many years of volunteer service. We appreciate that you have considered this organization worthy of your time, energy, and dedication. Because of you, we have been able to serve thousands of Floridians over the course of 20 plus years,” the e-mail said.

Local volunteers expressed surprise over the closing which comes on Christmas week. The network was sponsored in the Tampa Bay area by Cornerstone Family Ministries and TECO Energy.

Sandy Engel, coordinator for the Share site at Parrish United Methodist Church, said the number of participants at her location ranged from 70 to 150, including many on Social Security or food stamps.

Participants would register for the items they wanted to buy each month, and pay for their food upfront.

The high-quality food at low prices helped participants make ends meet, she said.

“When you get high quality food and a low cost you get spoiled,” Engel said. “It was a shock to us when we got the word.”

Jan Bashore, coordinator for the program at Oneco United Methodist Church, said her site was already planning to shut down its site due to declining participation.

“We had 14 volunteers and only five or six persons who were coming,” Bashore said.

She believes that the participants didn’t have the money to pay upfront and then have to wait two weeks to get their food.

“Last year our sales were over $1,000 for Christmas, this year it was $300,” she said.

Another reason the Share program may have had to close was the rising cost of fuel, making it more expensive to truck food to Florida, Engel said.

The Share Florida Food Network email notifying local sites that it was shutting down, Share staff attempted to answer the questions “What do we do now?” and, “What about our participants?”

“First and foremost, we understand your concern. It is our hope that you will devote your newly found free time to another volunteer organization or even yourself! For your participants, we recommend that you encourage them to visit their local discount grocery stores which have become increasingly present in communities over the last several years,” the e-mail said.

The email also suggested that participants be referred to AngelFood Family Ministries, which it called a program comparable to Share. For more information, visit www.angelfoodministries.com

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021,

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