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Empty Bowls in Lakewood Ranch adapts to pandemic

Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee to host 20th annual Empty Bowls as drive-thru event on Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.

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For the past 19 years, Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee has shut down Main Street at Lakewood Ranch to feed hundreds of people soup during its annual Empty Bowls fundraiser.

As the nonprofit celebrates its 20th Empty Bowls this year, Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee has had to make adjustments to the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Maribeth Phillips, the president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, said this year’s Empty Bowls will be a drive-thru event where people drive up to the registration point, and they’ll receive bread, water and a dessert before moving onto the next station to decide which soup they would like while also picking out a ceramic bowl.

“People love this luncheon,” Phillips said. “I’m just excited to see the cars go through. I know we have great support after 20 years from people who enjoy this luncheon. They enjoy getting their bowls, and they know it’s for a good cause.”

Anyone can go through the drive-thru from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 13 at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch. Advance registration is $20 while registration on Nov. 15 will be $25.

Another change to this year’s event is the nonprofit providing delivery to businesses or organizations that order at least 10 soups.

Phillips said Empty Bowls is crucial this year because the Food Bank of Manatee and the 80 food pantries Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee works with have been reporting at least a 50% increase in need for food compared to before the pandemic began.

All proceeds from Empty Bowls will go toward purchasing food for the food pantries the nonprofit works with and the Food Bank of Manatee.

“We hear story after story of people that have never had to go to a food distribution prior to COVID-19,” Phillips said. “We need to do everything we can to continue to raise awareness and to continue to raise funds to make sure that we can get food out to either our direct distributions we’re doing ourselves through the food bank or through the pantries.”

Meals on Wheels raises between $25,000 and $35,000 each year through Empty Bowls.

“Even when COVID-19 leaves us, we are going to have a long runway in front of us where people are going to rely on the Food Bank of Manatee and Meals on Wheels Plus for food,” Phillips said. “It’s critical for the community to support events like Empty Bowls to ensure we can continue to get food out to the community.”


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