Feeding Tampa Bay launches ‘mega pantry’ in Polk County, citing continued need during pandemic

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — With businesses reopening and many people back to work, hunger prevention organizations are still trying to keep up with growing demand from people who are food insecure.

“We are getting close to doubling our output every month,” said Jayci Peters, with Feeding Tampa Bay.

Feeding Tampa Bay launched its fifth drive-thru “mega pantry” Monday.

Following similar pantries in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, this new one is in the back of the Lakes Church in Lakeland.

The site, located at 1010 East Memorial Boulevard, is open every Monday from 4 to 6:30 p.m. “for as long as needed.”

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The organization saw the need skyrocket in March when the vicious coronavirus hit and large swaths of our economy shut down.

Feeding Tampa Bay now serves 1.7 million people.

“We really just want to make sure that we’re here and present, not only during the pandemic but even beyond the pandemic. There’s going to be a whole recovery and rebuild phase,” said Peters.

In an era of social distancing and contact-free transactions, Feeding Tampa Bay now brings pre-packaged boxes of mixed vegetables and fruits, gallons of milk and bags of meat directly to people’s vehicles.

Organizers aim to serve 1,000 people in one afternoon at Polk County’s mega pantry. People receive food, no questions asked.

“The unemployment [checks] didn’t happen or it happened way late for a lot of people so there is a huge need,” said Pastor Billy Ray, from the Lakes Church.

The Lakes Church had to close its food pantry, the “Compassion House,” because its volunteers were over the age of 70.

“We knew there was a big need for food but yet it wasn’t safe to bring our 70 and 80-year-old volunteers back in,” said Pastor Ray. “We were still trying to figure out how we could get food to the people and that’s where this Feeding America, the drive-thru, gets a little bit safer option so we can get restructured and get reopened.”

The United Way of Central Florida is hosting 17 George W. Jenkins End Hunger Initiative sites twice a month across Polk County.

A spokesperson from United Way of Central Florida told 8 On Your Side:

“Since the last week of May we are seeing slightly decreased demand at all but a couple of our 17 locations. This might correlate with businesses reopening and people returning to work as well as additional resources being provided through the CARES Act, Polk County Unites and the United Community Relief Fund. We are continuing to monitor this trend. The need is still great and all food at each mobile pantry is being distributed. Florida is the 4th most food insecure state in the nation and Polk County continues to directly reflect this need.”

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