LAKEWOOD RANCH — Last week, Maribeth Phillips, the new chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels PLUS, rode along with a volunteer deliveryman who had his route down pat.
But first, Phillips, a longtime Lakewood Ranch resident, watched as the chefs cooked the meals. She then saw the staff divvy up the meals, before joining the veteran deliveryman as he dropped off seven meals in 30 minutes.
During her first two weeks as CEO, Phillips, who was appointed Oct. 31, has gotten to know all of the faces that make the organization — known for delivering meals to homebound seniors — tick.
She has also worked to understand and promote the other programs that make up the organization.
“Meals on Wheels PLUS is branded as a place that delivers meals to seniors, but I want to stand on top of a roof and let people know about these other programs we have,” Phillips said. “This is a much greater operation than what people might understand.”
For example, Meals on Wheels PLUS is the parent organization for a number of programs, which include The Food Bank of Manatee, which last year distributed more than 3.4 million pounds of food to needy families. It also provides transportation for seniors to run errands or see a doctor through its Senior Wheels program.
The Senior Enrichment Center, which operates out of the Renaissance on 9th banquet facility in Bradenton, provides a place for people over 50 to join dance classes, clay workshops and learn how to use a computer.
But Phillips, who served on the Meals on Wheels PLUS Board for three-and-a-half years and acts as president of the board of directors for the Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Corporation, still reads stats that show one in seven seniors in Florida live with hunger, and she seeks to serve them.
That hunger rate, which was released by the Meals on Wheels Association of America and increased from the year before, pushes Phillips to help fill the overall needs of seniors.
After reading a newspaper article on the concept in 2006, she started a shoebox drive in which she and another family collected shoeboxes, which they decorated and filled with items, such as lotions, playing cards, slippers and other items, for senior citizens in need. They collected 36 shoeboxes that year.
“We were so proud,” she said.
Phillips’ shoebox drive has expanded each year since then and now culminates in a shoebox collection event called the Community Shoebox Reception. This year’s reception will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 2, at the Polo Grill and Bar. Guests can attend if they bring a shoebox filled with goodies, or donate $20 to Meals on Wheels PLUS.
Phillips is excited for the project, which brings her passion for caring for seniors to the forefront.
That, along with overseeing day-to-day activities for Meals on Wheels PLUS, has been extremely rewarding, she said.
“It’s been amazing so far,” Phillips said. “It’s easy to see how the entire staff is dedicated to our mission.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].
Community Shoebox Reception
When: 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 2
Where: Polo Grill and Bar, 10670 Boardwalk Loop
Entry: One decorated shoebox filled with items for seniors, or a $20 donation to Meals on Wheels PLUS
Details: Entry fee includes one free drink for each donated shoebox. Festivities include live music, free food, a visit from Santa and raffle prizes.
To prepare the shoebox, wrap the top and bottom of a shoebox separately in Christmas wrapping paper.
Once the box is wrapped, fill it with items. Then, place a rubber band around the shoebox and attach a tag designating whether the box is for a man or woman or is gender-neutral.