The volunteers start their run before daylight. Every morning, some early risers donating their time (and excess sleep hours) to the YMCA Togetherhood Project head out to Publix, Empire Bagels, and Starbucks on Marco Island, to pick up donated bread, rolls, bagels, and other baked goods.
They head out down Collier Boulevard, just a few miles to where hundreds or thousands of families “without food security,” or in other words, who don’t get enough to eat, live and work, to distribute the largess.
The first stops are Manatee Elementary School and Manatee Middle School. Here, the volunteer on the “bread run” retrieves a cart from inside the school office, and loads it up with food out in front of the school where children are dropped off. At Manatee Middle, the sign on the cart reads, “Complimentary bread provided for our Manatee Middle families by YMCA volunteers.”
The program runs on the honor system, with no one monitoring or attending the cart, and seems to work best that way, said Allyson Richards, who coordinates the bread run.
“We drop and go. People won’t take food if there’s someone at the cart. I have sat in my car and watched, and people hesitate to take anything anyway.” On a recent, foggy Wednesday morning, when two young girls walked by as she was stocking the cart, they had to be coaxed to help themselves to the food items. “So many of them come to school hungry.
“Come and get something, honey,” she urged them.
Both Manatee Elementary School and Manatee Middle School are Title 1 schools, meaning that over 90 percent of the students qualify for the schools’ free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch programs. For many of these students, time away from school can be a time of increased hunger, an additional reason to welcome the return to school. Families living in communities developed by Habitat for Humanity form a significant percentage of the student body at both schools.
“It’s a great thing!” Pamela Vickaryous, principal of Manatee Middle School, said of the bread run,” saying the deliveries provided much-needed assistance after Hurricane Irma struck. “Our families take what they need from the cart in the car loop. It feels good to know our community cares about our children, and we appreciate the daily deliveries and support.”
The bread run has been operated under the auspices of the Y since it took over the program from the now-closed Bedtime Bundles charity. Richards estimates they feed approximately 300 people each day.
The group also drops off food at a central distribution point near 6L’s Farms, and at the Habitat for Humanity office on the East Trail, where Habitat families come in every morning to make their monthly mortgage payments, and others come in to apply for the chance to build a Habitat home.
“They deliver a beautiful load of bread, two rolling carts of cupcakes, muffins, and pastries to our office,” said Rev. Lisa Lefkow, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Collier County. “As families come in, we can not only help them with their housing needs, but also their food needs. This bread goes home with people who need the food.”
“It’s the volunteers who make it work,” said Allyson Richards. “We have 25 volunteers, not counting couples – just counting one of them who drives. This is about all the early morning troopers who make this happen, and feed hundreds every day.
“We have people like Al Bistamonte, who just turned 81, Paul and Jean O’Neil, Maria Giacomucci, John Goff, John Coff, Caryle and Ken Herr, Chuck and Sue Thomas, Caryle and Ken Herr and Trish Selmer” among the regulars.
They also have the entire Richards family, with Allyson’s husband Jim Richards and four other family members participating. Allyson makes up the schedule, which also includes working with Our Daily Bread food pantry, operating a mobile food pantry in the communities of low-income farmworker families out the East Trail, and often going door to door to hand out the supplies.