Feeding Tampa Bay says its new distribution system will get more food to the hungry in Manatee County.
As East County resident Ralph Garrison visited The Food Bank of Manatee’s new warehouse off 59th Drive East in Bradenton last week, he wasn’t sure how his church, First Presbyterian Church, is going to feed the 300 people each month who need the service.
Garrison and First Presbyterian have counted on The Food Bank’s food donations for years. With news in late April that Feeding Tampa Bay had terminated its longtime contract to supply food to The Food Bank of Manatee, Garrison is worried their supply will be cut off.
Even though it will no longer be dealing with The Food Bank, Feeding Tampa Bay has issued statements saying it would be Manatee County’s primary distributor of food to more than 100 food pantries and agencies.
Unfortunately, Garrison said he has received no confirmation from Feeding Tampa Bay that it would support his church’s program, and the uncertainty is causing his organization angst.
The Food Bank, meanwhile, is seeking replacement sources — Feeding Tampa Bay had supplied about 50% of its stock, about 4 million pounds of food — so it can continue to supply all agencies it has supported over the years, at least until it finds out if Feeding Tampa Bay will fill all those needs.
The Food Bank had picked up donations from 39 retailers such as Publix, Walmart and Target. Those items were taken to The Food Bank’s warehouse, sorted and made available to soup kitchens, food pantries and other agencies in need of food.
Starting July 1, Feeding Tampa Bay began picking up and distributing those donations itself.
Maribeth Phillips, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, which operates The Food Bank, said her organization is working to secure food from sources other than Feeding Tampa Bay, West Central Florida’s hub for the national Feeding America network.
“We did not ask for this,” Phillips said. “Our message to (our clients) is we want you to get as much food as you need. The Food Bank of Manatee is not going anywhere. We are going to continue all our programs. My call of action to the community is to please do a food drive in your community. Please give donations so we can purchase more food.”
Phillips said The Food Bank wants to be prepared because Feeding Tampa Bay’s action has left it in unknown territory.
“We’re going to monitor and see how it goes,” Phillips said. “As of this moment, we don’t know how it is going to work.”
Sue Philbrick, who volunteers with a twice-monthly food distribution for St. George’s Episcopal Church in Bradenton, said her pantry will sign up with Feeding Tampa Bay, which will be on-site for its July 19 food distribution. However, she remains unsure of what the full impact will be.
St. George’s will have to pay Feeding Tampa Bay up to 18 cents per pound as part of a shared maintenance agreement. The Food Bank also has a shared maintenance agreement that could charge up to 18 cents per pound, but she currently only pays 2 cents per pound. She isn’t sure what the Feeding Tampa Bay cost will be.
“There’s too many unknowns,” she said.
Feeding Tampa Bay did announce it would waive all maintenance costs for the rest of 2018 during its transition.
Feeding Tampa Bay spokeswoman Jayci Peters said details of the plan will become clear as the transition begins. The organization is shifting to a regional distribution model as it already has done in three of the 10 counties it serves.
“We view this as a difference in the distribution model,” Peters said. “It’s having a more direct role. It’s a shift in method, but Manatee is not going to lose out on any of the food that’s been in Manatee County. Any food that is given in Manatee will stay in Manatee.”
The process just cuts The Food Bank out of the process.
Peters said that over the past two years Feeding Tampa Bay has increased the amount of food delivered to families in need in Pinellas and Pasco counties by 30% using the same model. Feeding Tampa Bay will enter into contracts with partner agencies and then provide food according to the agencies’ needs.
“I know there’s a lot of questions about what this means, but at the end of the day, there’s a huge need in our communities,” Peters said.
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