Shoppers visiting the Publix at Bell Shoals Road and Bloomingdale Avenue on Sunday packed their carts with pasta, soups, rices, grains and cereals, which within hours were hauled to a local food pantry to fill hungry bellies.
Feed the Bay, a community outreach effort started eight years ago by Bay Life Church in Brandon, then picked up by Bell Shoals Baptist Church and 38 others, went in to full swing after Sunday services.
After paying for their purchases at supermarkets, shoppers veered their carts toward parking lots across Eastern Hillsborough County where volunteers sorted the non-perishable food and personal hygiene items, then piled them into box trucks headed for area food banks.
Rachel Lacy and her twin brother, Daniel, both 19, helped man the volunteer shelter outside of the Publix on Bloomingdale, where they helped load boxes.
“We’ve done the shopping a few times, but we’ve never done this part,” Rachel Lacy said. “Our whole family is involved and we just wanted to help,” she said, hoisting soup cans and cereal boxes into designated bins.
Seven of her eight siblings participated Sunday, as did her parents, she said.
Eleven-year-old Carter Todd joined his mom and dad, Kim and Bill Todd and his sister, Aubrey, 7, to fill a grocery cart.
“We get to give food to the poor people and it’s free for them,” the astute 11-year-old said. “If they can’t help themselves, we can help them. It shows the love of Jesus.”
Tracy Baxter has not missed a year yet volunteering for Feed the Bay. “It shows the love of Christ in our community,” she said.
With more people in more need now than when the initiative started, it’s an important community outreach, she said.
During that first year, all of the food collected went to the Emergency Care Help Organization, or ECHO, located on Parsons Avenue. On Sunday, volunteers again stood outside of ECHO unloading those trucks and sorting food into bins that will go to families in trying situations. Some have lost their homes, some their jobs. All are struggling to put food on the table.
ECHO Director Stacy Efaw, who helped sort on Sunday, said the take from shoppers will help keep the food flowing for a couple of months. Various other food pantries between Plant City and Ruskin will also be filled.
This year, Advanced Auto Parts accepted Feed the Bay donations and gift cards, as did Progressive Insurance. Walgreens graduated from just collecting, to offering all of the items on the pre-printed shopping list for sale.
By last year, the intiative had collected more than 1 million pounds of food and toiletries for those in need, along with hundreds of gift cards the pantries can use to fill their lagging inventory.
This year, more than 1,000 volunteers collected 160,049 pounds of food and toiletries, said Melanie Langston, Feed the Bay coordinator for Bay Life Church.
That’s down from 181,000 pounds collected during last year’s drive.
“It’s a sign of the economy,” Langston said. “We’re thankful for every pound that came in.”
People can still donate by going to www.feedthebay.org.