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Residence Face Eviction For Accepting Food Bank Donations

(PALMETTO)  At least one resident of a Manatee County mobile home park has been threatened with eviction if she continues to accept deliveries of food from a church food bank.

There have been reports as many as 28 Carlyn Estates residents have received eviction threats for accepting food from a food pantry.

Pearl Jones, 81, said Friday she received a handwritten letter from Tonia Sonju, manager of Carlyn Estates Mobile Home Park in Palmetto, ordering her to stop taking deliveries of food from the nearby Hope Church, which was bringing boxes to about a dozen homes in the park, or she would face eviction.

The letter worked, Jones said Friday.

“I won’t be taking any more food,” said Jones, who has lived at the park for 31 years. “I can’t do it.”

A woman who answered the door at the manager’s home at the park Friday said: “We have no comment, thank you,” when asked to explain the letter.

The park was purchased Feb. 12, 2014, by Glucklich LLC of Palmetto with Sonju listed as authorized person.

Park residents say they are split about the request to stop taking food from the charity.

Jones said the park owners, who paid $5.2 million for 14.14 acres and 111 home lots, do not think anyone in the park should need free food. Trailer park residents, mostly seniors, pay monthly rent in the $400 range. Most residents own their mobile homes.

“This lady is from California and she said no one in here needs it,” Jones said of Sonju. “She thinks everyone in here has a lot of money. Well, I need it.”

Sharon Brittain, 79, a park resident for five years, said the new owners made many changes in the park for the better and tightened some rules, including one about food banks, such as Meals on Wheels PLUS, making home deliveries.

“Our prospectus states no food banks are allowed to deliver in this park without prior permission and then we need to know who needs help because if they are destitute we would want to get all the social services for them,” Brittain said.

Brittain said if people would give the new owners a chance they would see positive changes to the park, 5611 Bayshore Road in Palmetto.

“They have redone all our roads,” Brittain said of the new owners. “She bought us a pool table and ping-pong. She got the drugs out of here. There is no one starving in here. If they are, why isn’t their family taking care of them?”

Jones and neighbor, Sandra Swift, said the new owners are trying to eliminate those they don’t like.

Swift said the idea for delivering food to needy people in the park came from resident Tim McColye, who works for Meals on Wheels PLUS. McColye was president of the homeowners association, Brittain said.

“Tim realized how many people in this park are low income,” Swift said. “He said he wanted to start a food bank right here in the park. Tim is the one who contacted the church and got things started. We helped him distribute it. But now Tonia is giving violations to Tim for everything she can think of.”

Jones, who has cancer and diabetes, lives on $883 a month Social Security and pays $405 for lot rent, $80 for electricity, $23 for water, $34 for telephone and about $50 a month for car insurance so friends can drive her to get groceries. Jones husband, William, died in 1994.

When the church first started to offer food, McColye and friends would drive a truck to Jones’ driveway and food would be bagged and distributed.

After the park owner complained about the deliveries, the church boxed the food on site and brought it to homeowners. Some owners say they are now afraid to take the boxes, Jones said.

“The owner had her people follow the delivery trucks and mark down the numbers of the trailers who got it,” Jones said. “Now, no one will accept the food. They don’t want to be evicted.”

On Friday, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she is trying to understand this unusual case.

“I am in shock that the manager feels this way,” Whitmore said.

“I think it’s a matter of education. Accepting food is nothing to be embarrassed about. That is why we were put on Earth, to help our fellow man.”

There is probably not another mobile home park in Manatee County that does not openly accept Meals on Wheels PLUS, Whitmore said.

“Allowing the food bank in shows we are a caring community willing to help our neighbors,” Whitmore said.

Whitmore said she respect the fact Carlyn Estates is a private enterprise and has protections.

“She has her own private business there and that is a private street,” Whitmore said. “But if this really is an issue, maybe the residents can get the food across the street.”