The financial situation for thousands of families has been drastically altered during the pandemic. In Manatee County, the number of individuals and families experiencing food insecurity has increased. Approximately 44,300 Manatee County residents were experiencing food insecurity before COVID-19. Feeding America estimates that the number of those in the county affected since COVID-19 has increased to 58,040. Manatee Elementary School, in partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay and The University of Florida /IFAS Extension office in Manatee County, opened its first school pantry in March 2021.
“If you cannot feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”
Action taken in Manatee County
The community partnership director at the school is excited about the success, “We served 43 families, and an overall total of 300 individuals on the first day and it was amazing”. The Food and Nutrition Program provided by UF/IFAS Extension encourages the incorporation of fruits and vegetables in daily diets. The pantry serves community members every Wednesday. A table is set up outside with signs in English and Spanish directing families on the procedure to pick up their food. Visitors to the pantry receive bags packed with pasta, beans, oatmeal and other food products. Healthy recipes are on display for meals that can be made with the food provided, and QR codes are available with links to USDA recipes.
In the upcoming weeks, Feeding Tampa Bay will provide fresh produce, dairy and meat that will safely be stored for pantry visitors in two new refrigerators at the school. After the pandemic, the pantry will transition to a client choice model, allowing families to choose their food supplies while UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County will continue providing educational literature encouraging healthier eating habits. Manatee Elementary also has cultural enrichment activities, including a garden, that is supported by the Family Nutrition Program and the UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County. This program will serve 546 students attending the school who will be receiving nutrition classes during the summer.
For a list of resources and programs that UF/IFAS Extension provides to the community, visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/manatee/.