Food Bank seeks volunteers to help deliver food during summer months.
In their work with the Elks Feeding Empty Little Tummies program, Clay and Rosalie Wakefield knew they were helping children who had fallen through the system.
The Wakefields, who are members of Lakewood Ranch Elks Lodge 2855, joined an effort started by Bradenton Lodge 1511 member Jeff Mitchell in January of 2011. Mitchell discovered that more than 2,000 children ages 5-12 in Manatee County were either homeless or living in "food-deprived" homes.
While the Manatee County School district could feed those children during the school week, it had a problem supplying food on the weekends. The Elks stepped forward, purchasing and collecting food and delivering it to the school district, which packed backpacks and sent them home with the children.
But the Wakefields, who serve as the EFELT chairmen for the Lakewood Ranch Elks, started to wonder what happened to those children in the summer when school was out.
Cindy Sloan, the director of the Food Bank of Manatee, already had addressed the problem last summer when she started a program, White Out Summer Hunger. "The problem was that even the summer schools weren't open on Fridays," she said. "We had to find a way to get the food to the children."
Sloan went to the Manatee County School District and asked how the Food Bank of Manatee could help. The school district and the United States Department of Agriculture already were delivering food to children during the week, and set up a program where the Food Bank of Manatee could use their pick-up points to deliver weekend food for the kids consisting of two breakfasts, lunches and dinners and two snacks.
Last summer, the Food Bank of Manatee provided weekend meals for 500 children. But it was a struggle to find volunteers, and the Food Bank wanted to reach even more kids.
In April, Sloan reached out to the Wakefields to see if the Elks could help. "A lot of our volunteers already were asking, 'What do these kids do during the summer?'" Rosalie Wakefield said. "We wanted to help."
For the next 10 weeks, Sloan said the Food Bank of Manatee will reach 750 children, 250 more than a year ago, because of more than 30 Elks volunteers. She hopes that number of children served continues to grow in the future.
"We see kids who come back to school on Mondays and they are beat from not having food all weekend," Clay Wakefield said. "When Rosalie and I joined the Elks, we wanted to help veterans and kids. Now we've made kids our main goal."
Sloan still is seeking volunteers to pack and deliver food for White Out Summer Hunger. She also noted that Meals on Wheels Plus is seeking volunteer drivers to deliver meals to seniors during the summer as well. She said snow birds make up a large portion of their volunteers and most have returned home.
Anyone who would like to volunteer for either of the programs should call 747-4655 and ask for volunteer services.
Rosalie Wakefield noted the Elks are seeking a storage place in east Manatee County for when the EFELT program when school starts up next semester. They currently have a half portable at Freedom Elementary, but it's not enough. Anyone interested in donating space should call 749-0970.