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East County Thursday, Jun. 23, 2022 3 days ago

Meals on Wheels Plus celebrates 50 years of serving the community

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The nonprofit, which in 2020 hit a total 11 million home-delivered meal served since its 1972 inception, now delivers more than 320,000 meals a year.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Parrish's Terry Wells walked up to the door of a Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee home-delivery client and saw workers on the roof.

Wells knocked on the door, but no one answered. 

She reported to Meals on Wheels Plus that the client didn't answer, and staff from the nonprofit called the client's relative. 

Eventually, Wells found out the client had fallen the night before. He could hear the workers but couldn't get their attention to help him. It wasn't until Meals on Wheels notified his family that someone came to help. 

"He was OK afterward," Wells said, noting that those who deliver meals could actually save a life.

Wells has been volunteering for Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee for 32 years and even served on the nonprofit's board for 10 years. She's seen the nonprofit consistently grow from the moment she first volunteered in 1991 with her family serving meals to seniors on Thanksgiving.

"Going from a couple hundred to thousands of meals a week is just mind boggling," Wells said. 

Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee is marking its 50th year in 2022 but can't celebrate right now because demand for meals and food donations are at an all-time high. The organization needs volunteers to prepare and deliver meals as well as food and monetary donations. Besides coming out of the pandemic, volunteer help is down as many of their regular volunteers are snowbirds. And school is out for the summer which means the kids in need aren't getting meals five days a week at school.

Over the years, Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee always has found a way to meet the need.

In its first five years, Meals on Wheels delivered 370,000 meals. In 2021 alone, Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee delivered 328,000 meals. 

"In 50 years we had at least two recessions, we had COVID, and now we have inflation going sky-high," said Maribeth Phillips, the president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee. "It really brings home the fact that this program is such a critical and irreplaceable asset in Manatee County. It's essential."

Since its inception, the nonprofit has delivered more than 11 million meals and expanded its services from its original mission of delivering meals to the elderly and residents who were disabled to also include the Food Bank of Manatee, Daybreak Adult Day Center and Friendship Dining Centers. 

Phillips said the need for Meals on Wheels Plus' services has only increased since the pandemic began in 2020. Rising inflation also is causing more people to go to the food bank or ask for meals to be delivered to their homes. 

"I feel such pride in what this organization does and the impact it has had over 50 years in Manatee County and the thousands and thousands of people we have affected and assisted," Phillips said.

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