In Manatee County alone, the school board has identified more than 2,000 children who are homeless or live in food-deprived households. Some of these kids live in cars, group homes, hotels or local wooded encampments. For these children the breakfast and lunch provided at school are the only consistent nutrition in their world. Most children look forward to the weekends as a time to play and have fun, yet these at-risk children by and large end up with little or no food and battle hunger pains, enduring the physical ravages of not eating until they return to school on Monday. This is a travesty that Jeff Mitchell of the Bradenton Elks could not bear.
In January 2011, Elks Feeding Empty Little Tummies, Inc. (E.F.E.L.T) began providing meals, snacks, drinks, bread and snacks to these endangered children through a backpack program in cooperation with Manatee County Schools. Since the program started, E.F.E.L.T. has provided more than 1,010,658 meals to 163,443 children. That is the equivalent of 337 tons of food.
This amazing feat is accomplished with the hard work of more than 120 volunteers who purchase, stock and inventory the food, then pack the meals in backpacks and deliver them to local schools on Fridays for distribution. This is accomplished at two donated processing locations. The west Manatee location, a graciously donated 2,500 square foot facility located in Mt. Vernon Shopping center, must be vacated by February 21st. The economy being what it is, the owner has leased the location to a new tenant and the Elks will have to find another space to operate the program. In the meantime, 645 children in West Manatee county will go without until a new location can be found.
“Ideally, a central location either downtown or just east of downtown would be perfect, we could consolidate the two facilities from a centralized location” Jeff Mitchell, Executive Director of E.F.E.L.T. explained to me when we spoke earlier this week. “We have no lines on anything at this point, for either a central location or a western Manatee location.”
I am asking our readership to spread the word on behalf of the Elks and their continued effort to feed the children of Manatee County, so they can quickly find an adequate location to continue their mission. So many children in our community have come to depend on them.
If you own some empty retail space, or know someone who does please consider contacting Jeff Mitchell at (941) 744-6644. Time is running short and a new location needs to be secured as quickly as possible. If you would like to donate to the ongoing effort or just learn more about this amazing not-for-profit organization, please visit their website at www.efelt.org
We have an amazing community and if we pull together we can help the Elks continue to feed empty little tummies for many years to come.
Photos from Efelt website