On any regular Wednesday at the Manatee Elementary School Feeding Minds Food Pantry, you’ll find all manner of staples on the shelves: beans, peas, rice, cereal, canned goods.
And one other staple: love.
The pantry, a collaborative effort of Feeding Tampa Bay, Children’s Home Society of Florida and the School District of Manatee County, distributes meal worthy items every Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But it does more than provide food for those in need. It allows recipients to share the intangible warmth of a good meal. It’s an infectious love that caregivers share with students, grandmothers share with grandkids and neighbors share with neighbors. Every dish recipients prepare comes with a heaping helping of care.
“I don’t eat a lot of food, but I like to cook,” said Sherron Arnold, who enjoys whipping up Jamaican rice and beans with coconut juice for family and friends. “
Filling The Meal Gaps
It makes sense to have love emanating from the school, which often serves as the heartbeat of the community. The Feeding Minds School Pantry program increases access to healthy foods for low-income ALICE families by distributing food directly to families affiliated with the school. Without consistent access to healthy, nutritious foods, children struggle to meet behavioral and academic standards. Free and reduced lunches fill the gap, but evening, weekend or holiday breaks can leave families scrambling to put a meal on the table.
For Letitia Marshall, the pantry not only helps her feed her six grandchildren, it serves as a convenience because it’s next to the school.
“My granddaughter goes to this school. That’s how I found out about this program,” Marshall said. “It’s a skip and a hop from the schoolhouse.”
One need only look at the smile on the face of Letitia’s youngest grandchild, 2-year-old Ryla, to understand love is the most important ingredient in her dishes. Yet she also extends her cooking to neighbors.
“Sometimes I cook the food up and serve it to other people,” Letitia said.
Serving The Community
Cyriah Bryant, the family and engagement coordinator for Children’s Home Society, said the pantry also serves as a resource for parents and families who need everything from rental and utility assistance to English lessons and affordable Internet access. The pantry composes one part of the community school’s wraparound services, including a health clinic operated by MRC Health. The society, in partnership with the University of Central Florida, developed the program and it’s been in place at Manatee Elementary for three years. You can learn more about the community school in this Bradenton Herald article.
United Way Suncoast is proud to have this initiative as part of our community investment. We look forward to a continuing relationship with Feeding Tampa Bay, one of our valued strategic community partners.