POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A popular supermarket chain in Tampa Bay is helping to bridge the gap between farmers who have a surplus of food to sell and food banks that are dealing with soaring demands.

As part of a new initiative, Publix, which is headquartered in Lakeland, is buying produce and milk from local farmers and donating it to Feeding America locations across the southeast.

“An organization like ours has seen a 400% increase in requests for support,” said Thomas Mantz, executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay.

Feeding Tampa Bay provides 5 million meals every month to 500 hunger relief groups across the area.

“We’re seeking to double that. So right now we’re doubling our output into the community but that doesn’t reach the need that exists,” said Mantz.

Mantz tells 8 On Your Side most of the people in line at the distribution sites have never been there before.

“Suddenly a significant amount of folks in our communities were without jobs. At that same moment, farmers who had produced so much terrific crop for the community found no outlet for that,” said Mantz.

Without schools and dine-in restaurants open, some farmers are having to throw away perfectly good products.

“We have to get creative as best we can. It’s not in our nature to grow and produce crops to see it go into the ground,” said Nick Bergstrom, from Pero Family Farms. “Some of it is at detrimental losses. Our job is to get as much of it out there as we can as possible.”

Pero Family Farms is known for its sweet peppers, green beans and squash.

Recently, Pero Family Farms began selling to Publix, with no expectation their food would end up in the produce aisle.

“We have already shipped truckloads of green beans as well as cucumbers here in the last week,” he said.

“We had seven trailer loads that are already dispatched to go out to Feeding America food banks to help with fruits and vegetables and dairy as well,” said Maria Brous, director of communications at Publix.

So far, Publix has collected 276,000 pounds of produce and more than 43,000 gallons of milk to donate to southeastern Feeding America locations.

“To have Publix Supermarkets stepping up and actually helping growers in what is one of the most challenging times of need, we just want to say thank you,” said Bergstrom.

If you are a farmer and want to learn more about this program, contact Maria Brous at maria.brous@publix.com or (863) 688-1188, ext. 55339.

To learn about food distribution sites near you, visit FeedingTampaBay.org.