Manatee brings in 78K pounds of ‘stuff’ for food bank

Volunteers at the Publix Super Market at the Westgate Shopping Center in Bradenton take food out of a huge cardboard “pallet” Sunday and put it in individual boxes before it is transferred to a school bus. The activity was part of the 2017 Stuff the Bus food drive for the Food Bank of Manatee.
Volunteers at the Publix Super Market at the Westgate Shopping Center in Bradenton take food out of a huge cardboard “pallet” Sunday and put it in individual boxes before it is transferred to a school bus. The activity was part of the 2017 Stuff the Bus food drive for the Food Bank of Manatee.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, many individuals went without power for days in Manatee County and many suffered hurricane losses in the form of downed family heirloom trees and some structural damage.

But one entire organization got a jolt from Irma — the Food Bank of Manatee.

Due to many people losing all their food in the power outages and general post-hurricane needs, the food bank is currently in a depleted state, Diana Dill, the vice president of development for the food bank, said Sunday.

Sunday’s 2017 annual Stuff the Bus couldn’t have come at a better time, Dill added.

 During Stuff the Bus, shoppers at 15 Manatee County Publix Super Markets donate non-perishable items for the food bank. The total, measured by weight, has steadily escalated through the past years.

This year’s final total was 78,471, said Maribeth Phillips, chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels PLUS, which runs the food bank.

“I just love this community,” Dill said.

Everyone pitches in

Stuff the Bus volunteer Dawn Olma, who works at Tropicana, was one of about 500 community volunteers taking part in Stuff the Bus on Sunday.

Olma did a workout Saturday in preparation for her role Sunday as a “box lifter” on the school bus at the Publix at the Westgate Shopping Center, 3913 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

“I can’t believe I went to the gym,” Olma said.

Olma, whose job was the take boxes lifted up to her and carry them onto the seats of the bus, is an example of the five-entity partnership that makes Stuff the Bus unique, said Bronwyn Beightol, Manatee area president of United Way Suncoast.

United Way Suncoast, Publix Super Markets, the School District of Manatee County, Tropicana and the Food Bank of Manatee all work together, Beightol added.

Olma kept everyone laughing Sunday as she tirelessly hauled boxes. At one point, she said she was so dehydrated from the hard work that she couldn’t remember exactly who she was, but she did remember clearly that she must wait for a Tropicana product and nothing else in order to get re-hydrated.

At another moment she said, with concern, “I think there’s a layer missing from this box of Rice Krispie Treats,” hinting that perhaps her love for them had overcome her high moral character.

It was all in good fun.

“I hope it all helps,” Olma added of the food drive.

A unique, valuable partnership

“This is a unique and valuable partnership,” Beightol said. “United Way’s role is as an organizer, making sure everyone has gotten together and that all partners know what their responsibilities are and to assure that there are community volunteers present.”

On Sunday, there were community volunteers answering questions and giving out information in the Publix stores, Beightol said.

“The Food Bank of Manatee gets some volunteers of their own, and they help share their story of need with the community,” Beightol added. “Publix is a valuable partner in that we are able to put the buses at Publix locations, and they do an incredible job of promoting this effort all week long in leading up to it.”

Tropicana provides the empty boxes that are loaded and put onto the buses as well as volunteers of their own, like Olma, Beightol said.

Tropicana also weighs the buses so the community knows just how much food is gathered year to year, Beightol added.

“And then we have the School District of Manatee County, which donates a school bus for every Publix store in Manatee County and also a school bus driver for each one,” Beightol added. “Those bus drivers are the unsung heroes of Stuff the Bus. They have a big role. They make sure the food gets to the food bank at the end of the day.”

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