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Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee to host Empty Bowls in Lakewood Ranch

Meals on Wheels' Empty Bowls returns to an in-person event on Lakewood Main Street.

Lakewood Ranch's John and Diane Justice enjoy eating soup during Empty Bowls, which will return as an in-person event on Main Street at Lakewood Ranch this year. File photo.
Lakewood Ranch's John and Diane Justice enjoy eating soup during Empty Bowls, which will return as an in-person event on Main Street at Lakewood Ranch this year. File photo.
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For Maribeth Phillips, the president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Plus-Manatee, her nonprofit's success is often about the connection to her community.

Meals on Wheels Plus has answered many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Phillips hasn't been able to see as many people, at least up close and personal, who have meant so much to the effort.

That is beginning to change.

After having the Empty Bowls fundraiser as a drive thru event in 2020 due to the pandemic, Phillips said the 2021 version, which will be held on Nov. 5 at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, will look similar to what it did before the pandemic. 

“We’re thrilled we can reconnect with our patrons who love this event, and we’re so happy to see everybody for such a great cause,” Phillips said.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., people can go to Main Street at Lakewood Ranch and pick out a handmade ceramic bowl to take home as well as enjoy an assortment of soups, bread and dessert. People also can take their soup to-go. 

“People have come to this luncheon for years,” Phillips said. “They get their bowl, they enjoy their lunch and they know it’s for a great cause. They are helping us to make sure other people who can’t fill their bowls have the food they need to feed their families.”

Last year through its drive thru Empty Bowls event, Phillips estimated Meals on Wheels was able to raise $25,000 for the Food Bank of Manatee, which in turn helped feed hundreds of families. More than 85 social service agencies depend on the Food Bank of Manatee to provide food for its programs.

The Empty Bowls event appears to be just the beginning for Meals on Wheels Plus as it ventures back to a normal operating environment.

More events, such as the annual Holiday Shoebox Collection event, also will return to a normal format Dec. 4 after being a drive thru event in 2020. The event will be held at the Lakewood Ranch Elks Lodge, 4602 Lena Road, Bradenton. More than 1,000 shoeboxes are filled with gifts to be delivered to seniors in the area. For information about the event, go to

Meals on Wheels also plans to have a soft opening for its Daybreak Adult Day Center Dec. 1. The soft opening only will be for current Meals on Wheels Plus clients. The center has been closed since March 2020.

“We are so glad that we have reached this point after COVID to safely open up this very important program in Manatee County,” Phillips said of the adult day center. “We fully intend to have full attendance at our program as we continue to move into 2022.”

Throughout the pandemic, Towery said day center staff have stayed connected with clients through Zoom and by phone. 

Staff and clients miss gathering at the center to participate in different activities and socialize.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to Daybreak for three reasons," Parrish's Dorothy Prileau said. "It gives me a reason to get out of the house, I’m excited to see my friends again and it keeps me busy to be in the programs there."

Amy Towery, the vice president of development for Meals on Wheels Plus, said the nonprofit has been tracking the positivity rate in Manatee County and wants to ensure clients will be safe as they are at a higher risk due to their age. 

“We felt for the safety of everyone, it was necessary to temporarily suspend that programming,” Towery said. “Because we recently saw spikes locally in the number of COVID-19 cases, we had to postpone a couple of times our original reopening plans.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee will make any necessary changes to its programming and events schedule.


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