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Soggy but successful food drive for Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee

Meals on Wheels Plus event delivers 1,000 packages of food despite a steady rain.

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Evan Percoco, a Central Park resident, swiftly put boxes filled with potato chips on tables to be packaged.

Percoco and his fellow volunteers were under a time crunch. People would be driving up to the tent outside Ellenton Premium Outlets on June 6 to pick up packages of food from Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee during a mass distribution and collection.

Cars had been lined up since 7 a.m. in pouring rain to donate nonperishable items or to pick up one of the 1,000 packages of food the nonprofit had prepared. The distribution started at 9 a.m.

“It makes me so proud and happy that we were able to feed people,” said Maribeth Phillips, the president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee. “Despite the rain, we’re still able to get food into our community for the people that need it, especially now.”

About 60 volunteers guided people through the no-contact, drive-thru pickup. The boxes of food would provide a family of five with three meals a day for four to five days.

The donated items that were collected June 6 were to be held in quarantine for 72 hours before being distributed to the Food Bank of Manatee’s different food pantries.

“It makes me so happy because it really shows the outpouring [of support from the community],” Phillips said. “We are the local food bank from Manatee County. We are the local presence, so people want to help where they live, and people are mindful of the situation.”

Percoco has been volunteering with the organization one or two days per week since being furloughed from his job during the pandemic.

“I want to try to help out as much as possible,” he said. “Sometimes getting up early is difficult, but it’s good to know you’re doing it for the right reason.”

With people losing their jobs, getting pay cuts or being impacted by COVID-19 in some way, Phillips and volunteers said being able to provide meals to people in the community is crucial.

Phillips said that about 25,000 people are fed every week through the more than 60 pantries the Food Bank of Manatee serves and the need will increase.

“If we look back at history like the recession, we know that there is a long runway in front of us that people will continue to need assistance for food,” Phillips said. “Even when they get back to work, it’s still based on history and what we’ve seen before. It’ll be several years, so we anticipate we’ll see increased numbers.”


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