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Elks vying for $50,000 to feed homeless students in Manatee

Vote early. Vote often.

That’s the message from Bradenton Elks’ official Jeff Mitchell and fellow volunteers like Jane Evers seeking community support to vote online for a $50,000 Pepsi grant to help feed homeless schoolchildren in Manatee County.

“We’re all about kids and veterans,” said Mitchell, the exalted ruler at Bradenton Elks #1511. “When we find out kids are hungry, we act and the community doesn’t shy away either.”

The top 10 projects will make the cut and the voting deadline is Dec. 31.

“It doesn’t cost anything to vote,” Evers said. “Just a minute of your time.”

According to the Manatee County School District, about half of the 42,000 K-12 public school students in Manatee are on free or reduced cost for breakfast and lunch at school.

Nearly 1,400 students are homeless, living in cars, in wooded camping areas or homeless shelters and come to school Monday hungry.

“People don’t realize how many very young children lack stable adequate housing,” said Deb Bailey, a school social worker at the Harllee Full Service Family Center.

“Having kids going hungry is not good. It affects their attendance and their grades. There’s a lot of food insecurity.”

The Elks and volunteers are trying to do something about it through their project -- Elks Feeding Empty Little Tummies (E.F.E.L.T).

Prompted by Evers, Mitchell applied for and received a $10,000 Elks National Foundation grant.

Those funds will go toward feeding 50 homeless students at Abel Elementary, which was chosen by district officials.

“The needs here are really, really great,” said Principal Judy Bayer. “Many of these families are either doubled up with other families or living in a hotel on U.S. 41 with only a hot plate. Their ability to do anything is limited.

“The main meal these children get is the hot lunch they have here daily. Hope- fully, the food the Elks are providing will them tide them over. I know this means so much to these families.”

Food and six meals plus snacks will be picked up by Elks volunteers from Meals-On-Wheels Plus and other suppliers or donors, placed in back packs and delivered to Abel Elementary on Fridays for distribution.

“The goal is to start the first Friday of the week they return from holidays,” Evers said.

The Pepsi grant would go a long way toward addressing similar needs at at other schools, she added.

“We can feed 50 kids with $10,000. With $50,000 we can feed 250 to 300 kids. But that still leaves 1,000 kids,” she said.

Said Mitchell, “What we hope to do is write more grants and handle all of them.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

Pepsi grant voting If you’d like to help the Elks Feeding Empty Little Tummies win a $50,000 grant, go to: That will will take you to the Pepsi E.F.E.L.T. project page. The top 10 receive the grant.

Deadline is Dec. 31.