Meals on Wheels PLUS raises funds and gifts to deliver to more than 1,000 homebound seniors in Manatee County.
Elks volunteer JoAnn Reddy had a pretty good reason why she was supporting the 14th annual Community Shoebox Drive and Reception held annually by Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee.
The event, which is held to provide homebound seniors in Manatee County with some gifts and cheer during the holidays, switched to the Lakewood Ranch Elks Lodge for the first time and was held Dec. 8.
Reddy worked out of the kitchen during the event, serving the food the Elks donated. She was asked why she liked working for the Shoebox Drive.
"Because I might be getting one of these shoeboxes some day," Reddy said.
Maribeth Phillips, the president and CEO of Meals on Wheels PLUS, said the nonprofit hopes to deliver at least 1,000 shoeboxes each year.
Phillips said the Lakewood Ranch Elks Lodge was a perfect setting for the event.
"We are longtime partners with the Elks," she said.
The Food Bank of Manatee, which is operated by Meals on Wheels PLUS, helps to supply food for the Elks EFELT (Elks Feeding Empty Little Tummies) program that provides weekend meals for children in need. The food is delivered to schools on Friday so the children can take it home.
"We have a natural connection with Meals on Wheels PLUS," said Elks Secretary Brett Davis. "A significant amount of the food we provide for 800 children comes from the Food Bank."
Davis said he could see the Shoebox Drive becoming an annual event at the Elks Lodge.
Several Elks members rallied to support the event. Ron Lee played Santa and posed for photos. Elks members prepared and served food for those who came to support the effort. Phyllis and Chuck Stolteben of Lynn's Spins supplied the musical entertainment at no cost.
"When Brett (Davis) mentioned it to us, we felt it was a worthy cause," Phyllis Stolteben said. "Seniors are a forgotten group."
Chuck Stolteben is 80 while Phyllis Stolteben is 70.
More than 200 people were expected to attend the event.
River Pointe's Leah Zammit arrived with shoeboxes stuffed with gifts. "This is a phenomenal cause and we just wanted to help," she said.
Sharon Zawadski, a volunteer on the event committee, said she loved the way the Elks "opened their arms to us."
Those who attended were asked to bring a wrapped and filled shoebox for a senior or give a $20 donation at the door.
“The gifts collected are often the only holiday gift our clients receive, and we are asking our community to join us in this important effort so that no seniors are forgotten in our community this holiday season," Phillips said.
Members of the community were encouraged to gather items from the following list. Chapstick, flashlight with batteries, hand lotion/moisturizer, holiday trinkets (non-breakable), Kleenex, mechanical pencils, notepads, pens, paperback puzzles (large print), shampoo, slipper socks with grips, holiday cards, toothbrush/toothpaste, alcohol-free mouthwash, soap.
Those who didn't make the Elks Lodge event on Sunday can deliver shoeboxes or give donations at the office of Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee at 1816 9th Street West, Bradenton, during business hours Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.