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Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee hosts shoebox drive at Lakewood Ranch Elks Lodge

Meals on Wheels Plus hopes to collect at least 1,000 wrapped and filled shoeboxes for seniors.

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Maribeth Phillips, the CEO and president of Meals on Wheels Plus Manatee, likes to say she’s like Cinderella.

A shoe changed her life.

In 2006, Phillips and her friend Alice Hein, who lives in River Club, started filling and wrapping shoeboxes with little gifts to give to seniors in the community. 

Now, 15 years later, Phillips is continuing her efforts through Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee to provide shoeboxes filled with gifts to senior clients of the nonprofit.

“I started this in my home with my friend Alice, and every year it’s become bigger and bigger,” she said.

The shoebox drive is near and dear to Phillips heart because it led to her becoming involved in Meals on Wheels Plus in 2008 when she was asked to join the board. Then in 2012, Phillips was announced as its CEO and president.

Phillips said the shoebox drive has become a signature event with the nonprofit. This year, she hopes to collect at least 1,000 boxes during the shoebox collection and drive-thru, which is from 4-6 p.m. Dec. 4 at Lakewood Ranch Elks Lodge.

“We have well over 900 clients now because of the pandemic,” Phillips said. “From the onset of the pandemic, the senior population was kind of the target because there were many whose health was critically affected. Right from the start, we had so many of our seniors calling to ask for meals because they were staying isolated and staying home. We aren’t out of COVID yet, so it’s critical we are able to deliver this little bit of holiday joy to them.”

The shoeboxes are typically filled with about 10 small gifts including toiletries, notepads, playing cards, socks and paperback puzzle books, such as word searches and crossword puzzles.

Phillips said the shoebox the seniors receive might be the only gift they receive.

“Bringing this holiday box to them is just bringing that element of joy, that little surprise that puts a holiday smile on their faces,” she said. “The volunteer that delivers their meal with the shoebox is probably the only person that they see in their day or in their week, so having that touch point not just to check on the client but also give them this holiday gift is so critical.”

So far, Meals on Wheels Plus has collected more than 200 boxes as local organizations have worked to collect donations to fill and wrap boxes to give to the nonprofit.

“It just amazes every year the support of our community and the spread of interest,” Phillips said. “People love to do it every year. They love to shop for it. They love to wrap their boxes. They love to drop their boxes off.”

During the drive-thru and collection at Lakewood Ranch Elks Lodge, people will be able to participate in a raffle of about 30 different prizes including restaurant gift cards, a tablet and toys. Attendees will receive a raffle ticket for each shoebox they donate.

The reception also will include a DJ, appetizers, a selfie station and a visit from Santa.

“It’s only two hours, but people really do love to come,” Phillips said. “It’s a great way to start off the Christmas and holiday celebrations.”

After not being able to host a reception for the shoebox drive last year, Phillips said she is looking forward to seeing everyone at this year’s reception.

“It’s fun to see everybody and to see the parade of shoeboxes that come into the building from our guests who attend this event,” Phillips said. “It’s so heartwarming. This little reception is going to touch a lot of seniors in Manatee County.”


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