Manatee County community united in meeting food bank challenge

This community is rising to meet the Grand Challenge in a big way. Donations of groceries and cash have been pouring in since word spread about the rising tide of hunger and the Food Bank of Manatee's barren shelves.

Ever since Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and School Board member Julie Aranibar stood up and issued the Grand Challenge to businesses, schools and organizations in late August, people have opened their hearts and wallets to help feed their hungry neighbors. The Grand Challenge asks for donations of 1,000 pounds of food or $1,000 in cash, or any combination of the two, during the month of September. Individual contributions are eagerly welcome as well.

Nobody waited for September to roll around after learning of the urgent need. By the end of August, all 225 Food Bank donation barrels had been claimed -- with 75 going to organizations rushing to join the food drive. In the wake of that response, the Food Bank put in an order for collection boxes, which are quicker to produce than barrels.

The Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club set an early record by delivering 2,501 pounds of food, purchased with a gift of $3,627. The Food Bank also collected some $5,000 in cash before the start of September.

That's a very quick and highly commendable community response.

Manatee County is not alone in the fight against hunger. This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a report that shows record numbers of American households encountered trouble feeding their families. Others disrupted their eating patterns by cutting back on meals during rough times.

Most alarming, 17.9 million households could not obtain enough food last year to maintain healthy and active lives for all family members -- a record number and 700,000 more than just the previous year. That figure represents 14.9 percent of American households and more than 50 million people.

The annual USDA survey, "Household Food Security in the United States in 2011," reflects the lingering impact of the Great Recession as food banks and soup kitchens bear witness to dramatic increases in cries for help.

Manatee County continues to pitch in. Over the first week of September, businesses and organizations delivered 10,000 pounds of food and $12,000 in cash to the Food Bank. As of midday Thursday this week, those totals rose to $13,500 in cash and 13,046 pounds of food.

In response to that, Food Bank Director Cindy Sloan remarked: "I see everyone responding to the call for help and it warms my heart. To live in a county that cares so much about others less fortunate is terrific."

Indeed, the number of participating businesses and organizations is far too lengthy to cite here, a sure sign of widespread compassion for the less fortunate.

Word has spread outside Manatee County, too. Feeding Children Everywhere, a Sanford-based company that supplies meals to orphanages and schools across the globe, has pledged to give the Food Bank of Manatee 50,000 rice- and lentil-based meals monthly for the next three months.

Let's keep this grand momentum going.

To join this food drive, contact Cindy Sloan, food bank director, at 941-747-3663 or csloan@foodbankofmanatee.org.