BRADENTON -- The Selby Foundation is donating a new van.
The Kiddie Academy of Lakewood Ranch’s fundraiser came up with $3,500.
The Elks Foundation donated another $10,000 grant, making it $20,000 for this year.
Started just last January to provide meals over the weekend for homeless children through a backpack program, the Bradenton “Elks Feeding Empty Little Tummies,” is making headway, said project manager Jeff Mitchell.
“You say the words ‘homeless’ and ‘hungry child’ in the same sentence, that opens a lot of doors,” he said.
“We’re making inroads and every dime goes to feeding these kids. The support is overwhelming.”
Eleven months ago, the Manatee County School District identified 900 to 1,000 students ages 6-12 as homeless/living in deprived households.
That number, unfortunately, keeps growing.
n 51 percent of the district’s 42,000 students K-12 are considered Title 1, or on free or reduced out-of-pocket cost for the breakfast and lunch at school.
n The elementary population of 21,143, has 75 percent Title 1 or 15,107 elementary children on free or reduced lunch. Of those 15,107 students, 3,362 are attending specifically designated Title 1 schools.
n Within that population, the school system estimates 1,600 are homeless and living in the back of a car, under a bridge, local wooded camping areas or in homeless shelters.
“Children are coming to school hungry, taking aspirin instead of eating lunch to rid themselves of headaches associated with hunger,” Mitchell said.
“Although the school system is doing its best to feed these children break- fast and lunch during the week, over the weekend there is a significant population of children that go hungry and many are homeless.
“Our project is designed to provide six meals to the homeless children over the weekend.”
The program began with two schools and 60 children and now works with eight schools with 300 children.
The Bradenton Elks has also teamed with a coalition of providers that includes Church of The Cross, Lakewood Ranch Elks, Palmetto Elks and Manasota Elks.
The program is also subsidized, Mitchell said, by church groups, the Service Club of Manatee County, Albertsons, Walmart, Publix and the Community Foundation and private donations.
Food items, recommended by the school district nutritionist, are purchased from the Food Bank operated by Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee County.
“Our goal is not only feed as many kids as we can afford through grants and donations, but also bring awareness to Manatee County about the number and problems associated with homeless children in our community,” Mitchell said.
HELP THE ELKS
Interested in helping the “Elks Feed Empty Little Tummies” program? Call 941-792-1511 or 941-744-6644.