Unprecedented Food Insecurity Persists in Sarasota and Manatee Counties

All Faiths Food Bank and Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee cite Covid, supply chain interruptions and the rising cost of housing as challenges.

By Kim Doleatto December 17, 2021

Aerial view of a turkey giveaway

All Faiths Food Bank's Nov. 18 turkey distribution at Ed Smith Stadium. Through its own distributions, along with partner agencies and school pantries, the food bank distributed 12,626 turkeys and sides for the holidays.

Christmas and the holidays are depicted as bountiful, but for many, that storyline isn’t playing out. Just ask the team at All Faiths Food Bank.

The last two weeks of November were the busiest of the year so far. "We’re working nonstop to try and meet the need," says food bank CEO Sandra Frank. That month alone, All Faiths distributed almost 13,000 turkeys and served almost 22,000 people.

Some people think the food bank is set up like a church pantry. But their food distribution warehouse is actually the size of a Sam’s Club milling with forklifts. The nonprofit serves residents of both Sarasota and DeSoto counties.

Overall, she says, her team has seen at least a 40 percent increase in need over 2019, when they provided 13 million lbs. of food to the community. And in 2020, the peak of Covid, All Faiths bank distributed 22.5 million lbs. of food, provided 60 percent more meals than the previous year, and rallied in the face of a 53 percent increase in new clients at food distributions due to the pandemic, including those who may have never needed assistance before.

This year, Frank estimates All Faiths will distribute roughly 19 million lbs. of food. “People are still struggling to get back on their feet after the pandemic,” she says.

Amy Towery, vice-president of development for Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee County, tells a similar story in Manatee County.

The organization is often thought of solely as a delivery food service for those in need, but it operates four programs, two of which have seen enormous upticks in need. The home delivery meal program for seniors and those with a disability has nearly doubled since the onset of Covid.

The other program Meals on Wheels Plus manages is the Food Bank of Manatee, and it has reported as much as a 400 percent increase in demand for food.

Beyond the effects of Covid, "rents are off the charts, and cost of living, fuel and food are all on the rise," Towery says. "Working families who barely make ends meet are so close to the edge of food insecurity that they're having to choose between essentials."

Meals on Wheels Plus and All Faiths have also taken a hit due to supply chain challenges.

"We're not getting the donations from our retail partners since they're already short on their inventory because of the supply chain issues," Frank says. "We're buying a lot of meals right now.

"Also, the pandemic isn't over," she adds. "We're not recovered and the waves just keep coming."

Right now, she says, volunteers are busy packing backpacks full of healthy foods for Sarasota County students and their families. Because of the holiday break, thousands of children won't have access to their school meals. "It all has to be purchased," Frank says.

She continues, "People you know and love, your neighbors and friends, people you know are in need right now." 

To donate time, non-perishable foods or money, click here to visit Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, and here to visit All Faiths Food Bank.

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