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Feeding Tampa Bay launches first ever Mega Food Pantry in Manatee County

They're seeing double and triple the need for food assistance during the pandemic.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — There's a growing need for help, as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

“No one gets up in the morning and says I want to go get in a food line today. Nobody thinks it’s going to happen to them,” explains Thomas Mantz, president and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay.

In the Tampa Bay area, Mantz has seen a spike in people needing food.

“We're seeing a lot of folks that we’ve never seen before,” Mantz said.

Through some surveys, Mantz and his team found 70 percent of the people who were in line for food had never been in a food line before, and 60 percent had recently lost their jobs.

“We already have a lot of food insecure folks in our community,” Mantz explained. “This [COVID-19] just adds significantly to the number of folks who are struggling, and so we've got to step into that need."

Since COVID-19 began in March, Feeding Tampa Bay has provided 10 million meals throughout its 10-county region.

In an effort to feed more families, Feeding Tampa Bay is launching the first ever Mega Pantry in Manatee County.

“There’s at least double to triple the need in all of our communities based on the impact of COVID,” Mantz said. “A mega pantry is one of several solutions we are deploying to make sure Manatee County has the food that it needs.”

Throughout this pandemic, Feeding Tampa Bay has worked with partner agencies, like the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County to schedule mobile pantry distributions and to-go meal distribution for children and families.

“It has reached an all-time high,” a spokesperson for Feeding Tampa Bay said.

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The organization delivered 1,367,569.5 pounds of food between March 1 and May 22. It also gave out 13,200 chef-prepared to-go meals April 14 - May 21, “equating to 1,139,642 meals delivered to our neighbors in need.”

Feeding Tampa Bay has already successfully deployed Mega Pantries in Hillsborough and Pinellas. Those pantries take place every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The Hillsborough distribution site can be found at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry Campus.

The Pinellas County Mega Pantry takes place at Tropicana Field, 1 Tropicana Dr., St. Petersburg, FL 33705 LOT 4.

Mants says, just last Saturday the organization handed out food to the 3,800 cars that showed up in Hillsborough.

Mantz says Manatee County is next because it’s one of the areas of greatest need. Pasco and Polk are after that.

Feeding Tampa Bay's Mega Pantry in Manatee County will launch Tuesday, May 26 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and continue each Tuesday through June. It's located at State College of Florida, 5840 26th St. W in Bradenton.

The difference between this Mega Pantry and a regular drive thru site, is the ability to feed more people.

“Each weekly distribution we’ll be prepared to serve 1,000 adults with care packages that will include three-to-four days of food, consisting of shelf stable and fresh products.”

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Mantz says this Mega Pantry will continue as long as necessary.

"We believe ultimately that the COVID crisis will impact our communities for the next year, at least, and so we are planning on the longer haul here. This is just the start," Mantz said.

One of his greatest concerns is that people who are in need of food don't know where to find resources.

If you go to feedingtampabay.org, there is a handy feature on the website where you can type in your zip code and it will take you to a page where there is food in your community.

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