Meals on Wheels PLUS short $40,000 in its quest to provide meals for children in need.
Now well into Manatee County students’ summer vacation, Meals on Wheels Plus is doing what it can to provide 20,000 bags of food for children in need.
Maribeth Phillips, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, is hoping the community continues to come through.
Phillips said another $40,000 in donations is needed to meet the 20,000 bags of food demand.
That money, if raised, will be matched by two anonymous donors and would cap an initiative to distribute 120,000 meals for children during the
summer. The initiative is called Sack Summer Hunger.
Each bag, valued at $5, contains six kid-friendly entrees and two snacks and is sent home with children in need. Many of the meals can be prepared by the children themselves, such as macaroni and cheese or oatmeal.
“We’re very excited about this,” Phillips said. “This is our fifth year distributing these sacks of summer weekend food. This is all done through donations and volunteers.”
The first year, Meals on Wheels Plus, which operates The Food Bank of Manatee, delivered 5,000 bags of food over the summer. Last year, it gave out 18,000. This year, that figure will be around 20,000.
Phillips said Meals on Wheels Plus still needs volunteers to help prepare the bags and deliver them to various locations, along with cash donations.
She said more than 60% of Manatee County’s children receive free or reduced-priced lunches during the school year, and that need is even larger during the summer.
“In the summer when the kids are out of school, there’s no way to reach them,” Phillips said.
The state of Florida’s Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness offers the Summer BreakSpot program, which provides free meals to children 18 and under while school is out for the summer. Many meal sites are located at places like parks, libraries and churches and offer breakfasts, lunches, snacks or dinner.
In Manatee County, Meals on Wheels Plus follows the program’s Friday lunch routes to provide the weekend bags to needy children. It will also drop bags for pickup at six libraries, which includes the Braden River Library.
“It’s critical to make sure our children have nutrition,” Phillips said. “When they’re out of school over the summer, if they’re thinking about how their belly hurts because there’s no food, they’re not going to be able to concentrate on enjoying the summer they have.”
Phillips said that at the BreakSpot locations, children flock to the bus for their meals, and they also swarm Meals on Wheels Plus for its bags of food and make sure to thank volunteers and sometimes asking for more for younger siblings.
“It tears at your heart,” Phillips said. “They truly do appreciate it, and the volunteers get so much out of it as well.”