Meals of Hope to battle childood hunger

Plans cooking to help hungry children

By Times Wire

Alleviating childhood hunger is the goal of a volunteer project getting started at the Largo Community Center.

When you walk inside the Largo Community Center, a $10.5-million facility that opened last January, going hungry is not the first thing you think of. Instead, thoughts of fine living spring to mind as you admire the $90,000 mosaic at the entryway, or if you peek at the ballerinas in the state-of-the-art dance studio.However, Warren Ankerberg, director of the Community Center, hopes to spur a different way of thinking.

Ankerberg plans on using the center to help with the battle against childhood hunger. In January, for his annual Day of Good Deeds program, Ankerberg will turn the center into a packaging plant of sorts. He is partnering with Meals of Hope, a Naples-based nonprofit that distributes prepackaged meals to those in need.

According to a survey done by the Pinellas Coalition of the Homeless in 2011, there are more than 2,100 homeless children in the county. Many don’t know where (and if) they’ll be getting their next meal.

“Look at it this way. These children we are talking about might be on free or reduced lunch in Pinellas County schools. But many of them, before the bell rings at the end of the day, are sitting there wondering if they will be having dinner,” Ankerberg said.

Ankerberg plans on spending the next several weeks collecting donations from visitors to the community center as well as some sponsors. Come Jan. 14, he hopes he’s gathered enough donations to have his volunteers fill 16,000 bags.

The ingredients for each bag of food cost $1.50. Each bag will contain enough food for six single-serving meals of either macaroni and cheese, or rice and bean casserole.

After the bags are filled, the Community Center will then have the RCS Food Bank and Pinellas County schools store the food and distribute it to children in need.

Ankerberg says gathering up more than 100 volunteers and setting up the center will be the easy part of the project.

“What I’m concerned about now is getting donations,” he said. “We’d love to pack about 82,000 meals, which means we’re aiming to collect over $25,000. That’s a lot of money.”

Perry Goosie, the Tampa Bay coordinator for Meals of Hope, is working with Ankerberg on the project. Goosie admits that the last several years have been difficult for people to help any charity financially.

“But we just can’t let children go hungry. Hunger affects everything. Hunger can very well lead to crime,” Goosie said.

“Think about it. The child will say to (himself) that, ‘There’s nothing for supper tonight, and I have a chance to steal a candy bar, so I will.’ Or they say, ‘I have a little sister at home who is hungry, and I have a chance to steal out of that car to get money for food for her,’ ” Goosie said.

Duggan Cooley, president of the Clearwater-based RCS, appreciates any help the community gives toward the problem of feeding the hungry in Pinellas County. “When people get together to do the work like this, they start talking more about the hunger issue, and the word will spread,” he said.

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@sptimes.com.

To help

If you would like to contribute to the Day of Good Deeds program for the city of Largo, a donation box is set up inside the Largo Community Center, 400 Alt. Keene Road. Hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to noon Saturday; Closed on Sunday. If you’d like to discuss becoming a sponsor for the event or need more information, call (727) 518-3131.

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