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Bradenton, Florida -- More than 11,000 pounds of food and $12,000 in donations have been collected so far for the 2014 Grand Challenge to white out hunger, but more contributions are needed to head off a food shortage.

Manatee County officials have announced they will continue to promote food and fund collections throughout the summer months, and encourage local businesses and organizations to participate.

Community leaders kicked off this year's Grand Challenge at The Food Bank of Manatee in May asking businesses, clubs and civic organizations to raise 1,000 pounds of food, $1,000 in cash or a combination of the two throughout June.

"We live in a giving, caring community," said Commissioner Carol Whitmore. "No one in Manatee County should have to go hungry, so I ask everyone to do what they can to help our neighbors. One can, one dollar – it all makes a difference."

The Challenge was held earlier than in previous years with the hope that the Food Bank of Manatee's shelves would stay well-stocked throughout the busy summer months. But Cindy Sloan, Director of The Food Bank of Manatee, says the need is still great.

"We have no pasta, no rice…very little cereal," said Sloan. "The food pantries we serve are distributing the food as fast as we collect it – some have had to turn people away. It's heartbreaking."

"Our challenge right now is keeping the shelves stocked," added Maribeth Phillips, CEO of Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee, which operates The Food Bank. "We are relying on the community during this critical time, so we can be responsive to our partner agencies."

St. John's Missionary Baptist Church, for example, is a Food Bank partner that provides food for the needy every week, serving approximately 2,000 people in a month. This is just one of the many programs that depend on The Food Bank for its primary food supply, in addition to child care programs that operate in overdrive during the summer.

The first Grand Challenge was issued on the heels of a busy summer in 2012 when the Food Bank's shelves were empty. That effort resulted in an outpouring of support: local groups contributed more than 69,000 pounds of food and raised $55,000. The following year, the 2013 Grand Challenge netted over 49,000 pounds of food and $107,000 (including a $31,000 donation from Manatee Community Foundation). That total was all matched with an additional $100,000 from the Mosaic Company Foundation.

For more information on the Food Bank of Manatee, visit www.foodbankofmanatee.org.

For more information on Manatee County Government, visit online at www.mymanatee.org or call (941) 748-4501. You can also follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/manatee.county.fl and on Twitter, @ManateeGov.

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