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Manatee libraries hand out weekend meals to children in need

Kevin Beach, Manatee County’s library operations manager, goes through the boxes of food at the Central Library for children in need of meals over the weekend.
Kevin Beach, Manatee County’s library operations manager, goes through the boxes of food at the Central Library for children in need of meals over the weekend. caronson@bradenton.com

With one in every five children hungry in Manatee County, Manatee libraries are teaming up with the Food Bank of Manatee to ensure these children have food over the weekend this summer.

Every Friday through Aug. 5, children in need can go to any of the six Manatee libraries to receive a food bag for the weekend.

“The idea is that kids can go get free lunches and breakfasts during the week but over the weekend, these things aren’t always available so parents can come in and pick up a bag of nonperishable items to feed their children over the weekend,” said Chris O’Hara, Manatee County Central Library youth services coordinator.

With more than 55 percent of school-age children in Manatee County qualifying for free or reduced-price meals during the school year, the school district, in partnership with the Food Bank of Manatee, provides meals for them during the week. The White Out Summer Hunger program fills the weekend gap during the summer months.

“We want to make sure that each and every one of these kids can go home with a meal for the weekend,” said Stephanie Grepling, marketing and communications manager for Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee.

The Food Bank of Manatee distributed 690 food bags this weekend, an increase from the 500 distributed last week, according to Grepling. The food bags are also handed out at Bradenton Village, Southeast High and Lincoln Park on Friday afternoons.

More than 18,000 children in Manatee County are “food insecure,” Grepling said. More than 100 children were not able to get a bag when they ran out last weekend.

“We increased the amount of bags this weekend,” she said. “We are calling on our community to donate food that they may have laying around nonperishable foods to donate at any of the library locations or The Food Bank of Manatee.”

This is the first year Manatee libraries are partnering with the food bank to participate in the program.

“We thought it was a great fit because so many parents come into the library with the children and we have locations throughout the county so therefore it just seemed like a natural thing to be able to help out in this capacity,” O’Hara said.

Hunger is curable and now is the time to act, Grepling said.

“We thought it was a great partnership because learning is fun and it is a great central location for children all over the community, a safe environment, that they can come pick up a book and they can come pick up their weekend meals and then eat and educate themselves over the weekend,” she said.

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson

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