Feed The Bay Outreach On March 26 Helps Fill Local Food Pantries

By Amanda Boston

Feed The Bay is an annual community-wide outreach where local churches and businesses team up with Publix Super Markets to collect thousands of pounds of food for local food agencies throughout the Tampa Bay area. This year, the event takes place on Sunday, March 26 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. with participation from 34 churches, 14 food agencies and 15 Publix Super Markets. For more than a decade, this event has stocked the pantry shelves of local food agencies such as the Women’s Resource Center, ECHO and the United Food Bank.

So how does it work? The coordinated effort offers a simple yet effective process to purchase the food items. Participating shoppers are provided a grocery list of requested items. Immediately after the shopper purchases the food, volunteers waiting outside load the donated food onto a semi-truck. At 2 p.m., the loaded food truck sets out to a predetermined agency, where another group of volunteers is waiting to unload and sort the food onto the pantry shelves. By the next morning, the food agency is ready to serve with a replenished pantry.

Melanie Langston, the event coordinator at Bay Life Church in Brandon has led the charge of this operation since 2011. “I fell in love with Feed The Bay the first time I saw it simply because it was so laser focused and so easy for the whole family to get involved….It is a teachable moment. It is simply going and being the hands and feet of Christ,” said Langston.

The one-day event yields instant and visible results of replenished pantries in food agencies across the Bay, but it also spawns long-standing desirable effects in other ways.

Cheryl Hickman, founder and executive director of the Women’s Resource Center of Tampa explained, “ We normally have close to 100 volunteers that help on that day. We help mostly single parent moms get reestablished with employment, housing and healthcare. Once they (the volunteers) understand that we don’t just need food but also clothes, household items, furniture, they begin to see the whole picture.”

Volunteers must be at least 14 years old, but children are welcome to participate alongside their parents. For more information or to sign up as a volunteer, please visit www.feedthebay.org or contact Melanie Langston at mlangston@baylife.org.