Bradenton church wants to wrap its arms around Bradenton's hungry
It's rare to see on duty police officers in their blue uniforms lugging big, heavy boxes of food to people's vehicles for them.
But on Sunday, Sgt. Shane Shehorn and Officer Ross Johnson of the Bradenton Police Department got so caught up in the dedication ceremonies for the new Community Services Wing at Mount Gilead Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bradenton.
Not only did the police officers carry boxes for needy people, Shehorn accepted the church's invitation to cut the red ribbon to officially open the new wing, which will enhance the church's third-Sunday-of-each-month at 11 a.m. free food distribution to the community.
"It's like a grass roots movement," Shehorn said of Mount Gilead's dedication for the past 10 years to feeding the community around the church at 1803 13th St. W., Bradenton. "What a great thing."
In a dedication speech to the crowd of about 100 people, Lorine Valentine McDowell, the church's community services director for 2016, paid tribute to the police officers when she said part of the church's mission in 2016 is to develop "collaborative partnerships."
"Hopefully, we can get some manpower out here every time they do this and help them out to the best of our ability," Shehorn said. "What an incredible thing this church is doing for the people who live around here."
Over the past months, church members, including McDowell's husband, got out their hammer and nails and remodeled a wing of offices into a wing of shelves and storage for food. The new wing will not only will make distribution of food more streamlined, it can also be used for counseling people, said The Rev. Pierre Francois, who has been at the church for about a year.
"We usually serve about 200 families each month," Francois said. "We hope to increase the number of families we can reach."
Rosalind Jenkins, Steve and Diane Leed and Raymond Grove were among the crowd receiving food Sunday.
"There are many people on the streets right now who don't have anything," said Grove who walks 20 minutes from his home on the 2000 block of Tamiami Trail to get his free food. Grove is on a fixed budget, like many who lined up Sunday.
"The box has vegetables, cereal, milk and so on," Grove said. "This helps me get by."
Jenkins lives not even a block away. A neighbor told her about the church. Her husband is disabled. They have no vehicle.
"He rides a bike and I walk," Jenkins said.
The monthly free food guarantees there will be at least one meat meal a month in the Jenkins' home.
"I know that I can make meals and that my grand kids will have some kind of meat," Jenkins said. "I'm really glad they do have services like this close by."
Steve Leed looked in the box he received and found lettuce, corn on the cob, bread, eggs and chicken.
"We live on a fixed income," Steve Leed said. "So, we are happy about this. We moved down here four months ago and this church is the first thing people told us about the area."
In a message he gave just before the ribbon-cutting, Francois read from Matthew 25:40 in the Bible where it says: "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
Said Francois to the crowd: "That is who we are. That is our mission."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond