SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
AID volunteer Norma Shearer and AID
President John Bonser check supplies at the Roser food bank.
The number of Island residents seeking food from local food pantries has skyrocketed this year to record levels, according to relief workers.
The national economic downturn, the workers maintain, has come to the Island in a big way.
"We really didn’t think that anyone on the Island could possibly be going hungry, but there are families with children, elderly people and others who are going hungry, " said John Bonser, president of All Island Denominations, an ecumenical group that has been helping Island residents since 1982.
Most of the people in need live on the Island and many work as wait staff, while others are in construction or work in the hotels and motels, Bonser said.
The bottom line, he added, is that they can’t afford to buy groceries.
In fact, requests for food from the Roser food pantry, which AID helps stock, has quadrupled from just months ago.
Lately, as many as 50 bags of groceries have been given out each month.
"I see such a need," said Diane Pierce, one of the coordinators of the food pantry. “It’s been bad. Sometimes we have so many requests we run out of food in the pantry and have to go to Publix to fill in what we don’t have donated."
"We serve only Island residents," Bonser said. "There are other organizations to help people off the Island. We serve people who live here and usually work here."
The purpose of AID is to offer charitable assistance to those persons who are in need on Anna Maria Island, according to the group’s mission statement. All of the churches on the Island have representatives in the 30 or so member organization.
"When you live on the margins from paycheck to paycheck, being out of work for only a week or two can put you over the edge," said Rosemary Backer, pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.
Pastor Rosemary said some of the people she’s referred to the food pantry are seasonal workers who are laid off during the slow times. Some are from the construction industry, where jobs are few and far between now.
"These are mostly people who are ready, willing and able to work," she said. "There just aren’t any jobs."
"We try to give a hand up, not a handout," said Dianne DeLong, the other coordinator of the food pantry. "Sometimes it just takes that little bit of help to get someone over a hard time."
AID offers one-time assistance from the food pantry. A bag of groceries contains two dinners such as macaroni and cheese, or canned spaghetti, two cans each of soup, vegetables and meat, one can of fruit, a pack of rice or potatoes, peanut butter, jelly, cereal, a few tea bags or cocoa, one sleeve of crackers, a roll of toilet paper and a baggie of soap.
"We give them a $10 voucher to Publix so they can get milk and fresh produce and anything else they might need there," said Roser Church’s Pastor Gary Batey. The vouchers may not be used for alcohol or tobacco products.
Each person in the household gets one bag. And each recipient is also counseled as to where and how to find with other forms of assistance such as food stamps and job banks. When there are children in the household, the one time per year help rule is bent a little, according to AID volunteers.
The group also has a small budget and can offer one-time help with rent, utilities or prescriptions. The volunteer who handles most of the applicants for that service has an extensive background in social services, and she screens the applicants carefully.
Every church on the Island contributes to the food pantry. People who belong to a church can drop off their non-perishable items when they attend services.
"And to attend the Kiwanis meetings Saturday mornings at Café on the Beach, everyone has to bring a can," said Michael Pierce, mayor of Bradenton Beach.
There is great need, and people who don’t necessarily find themselves in church every Sunday, but who want to help their neighbors, can do so by taking canned goods, other non-perishables and paper products to Roser Church any weekday. The door to the office is on Pine Avenue at about the mid-point of the building.
Anyone wanting to contribute financial assistance can send a tax-deductible donation to AID, PO Box 305, Anna Maria, FL 34216.
People in need of food or other assistance can call the AID help line at 725-AIDE (2433). To pick up the food, you’ll have to have an appointment so arrangements can be made to have volunteers get the bags ready.