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The Wheels keep turning in Manatee County

Meals on Wheels Plus prepares for annual fundraiser

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  • | 6:20 a.m. April 20, 2016
  • East County
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When Mary Ann and Frank Dorwart found a way to give back to their community by delivering for Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, they probably didn’t understand how much they would benefit themselves.

Residents of The Harbourage on the Braden River, the Dorwarts have been married for 50 years. When they retired, they decided they wanted to volunteer together, so they did.

“He’s the driver, I’m the jumper,” Mary Ann Dorwart said.

They jumped into a task that turned into something special.

They don’t just knock on the door and drop off the meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They bring treats for the residents’ pets and spend time chatting. Sometimes they need to go a little above and beyond, such as singing “Happy Birthday.”

“They’re happy to see someone,” Frank said of the Meals on Wheels Plus clients. “It’s really hard when you can’t get out.”

Now the Dorwarts are almost part of several new families.

If the couple have to miss a week or two delivering, the residents start calling in to ask if they’re OK.

“The volunteers develop such a bond with the clients because that kind face means so much,” said Maribeth Phillips, the CEO of Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee.

Phillips has seen the same overall story take different forms for years. She said Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee is more than just a hot meal. It provides a wide variety of services in many aspects of their clients’ lives, from home meal delivery to spending time at the Daybreak Adult Day Center to making a new friend.

To keep it all rolling, Meals on Wheels Plus hosts events such as the 23rd annual Tropical Nights, which is the organization’s biggest fundraiser to help it staff and supply 50 delivery routes and 750 meals a day.

This year, Tropical Nights is coming to East County. At 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 23, the fundraiser will be held at the Sarasota Polo Grounds. Tickets are $150 per person and benefit all of Meals on Wheels Plus services, which include the Food Bank of Manatee and the Daybreak Adult Center.

The organization’s annual budget is $11 million, and it’s largely funded by donations as well as the free labor from its volunteers.

Debbie Rausch with Maribeth Phillips, Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee. Rausch takes her mother to the Daybreak Adult Center while she is at work.
Debbie Rausch with Maribeth Phillips, Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee. Rausch takes her mother to the Daybreak Adult Center while she is at work.

Anyone who questions the nonprofit’s value should check with Debbie Rausch, an employee at the Lakewood Ranch Information Center on State Road 64, who has seen firsthand how her mother, Mary Manges, benefits from the Daybreak Adult Center.

Manges lived in Peridia Golf and Country Club for almost 15 years, but moved in with her daughter when her health began to deteriorate. Manges has dementia.

The Daybreak Center opened last year, and she started taking her mother there in October.

“The first time, she was reluctant to go, but she knew I had to work, so she did it for me,” Rausch said.

Rausch used to have a difficult time getting her mother to get out of bed, but now when she knows she’s going to the center, Manges gets herself up and ready to go.

“Daybreak has saved me,” Rausch said. “It helps her get out and go somewhere, and it brings her mind around to being a person.”


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