The generosity of the community during the holiday season has created a slight problem for Meals on Wheels Plus Manatee.
President and Chief Executive Officer Maribeth Phillips said more volunteers are needed to help sort through all of the food donations, and to place them on shelves, ready for use by food pantries.
Phillips said that need is despite the fact with season comes many more volunteers to the nonprofit. Even so, Meals on Wheels Plus could use even more.
Phillips said one important purpose volunteers serve is providing interaction when they drop off food for homebound seniors.
“It’s a friendly face, and some of our clients might not even see anybody else,” she said.
It's a busy season for all the volunteers at Meals on Wheels Plus, both new and old.
The first big event of December is the 17th annual Holiday Shoebox Drive and Reception, which will be hosted Dec. 3 at the Lakewood Ranch Elk’s Club. The event is designed to provide homebound seniors with a boost during the holiday season.
Those who attend the event, which runs from 4-6 p.m., will either donate a shoebox with about 10 items inside or they will give a $20 donation. Each box is closed and secured with a rubber band and is identified as male, female or non-gender specific. For more information, go to MealsonWheelsPlus.org.
For each box a guest brings, they will receive a raffle ticket or a free drink.
“(The guests) enjoy a nice little reception, but they’re doing something good for people who are in need,” Phillips said. “A good majority of our clients live by themselves, so they don't have family around, or they don't have a spouse, and so this is just a little touch of joy during the holiday for them.”
Meals on Wheels has been planning Christmas dinners to be provided toi its clients along with its food distribution on Dec. 4 and Dec. 19, for the first 500 families in need.
“Hunger is 24-7 for some people, and so the needs are great, whether it’s Christmas, or it’s July 4th,” she said. “Hunger doesn’t discriminate.”
Overall in the county, Phillips said the price of food and gas, along with the impact of Hurricane Ian, have left many more families in need of food.
She said her organization currently is serving 900 clients, while before the start of COVID-19, it served 550. She said on Nov. 21, Meals on Wheels Plus gave out 500 turkey dinners, and the nonprofit is on track to give out three million pounds of food this year.
She said the greater demand is evident through interactions with the 85 food pantries and other agencies serviced by Meals on Wheels Plus.
One major way the organization receives food donations in December is the delivery of barrels to businesses that fill up the barrels with food donations and then return them when full. Volunteers then check the dates on the donated food and sort out the donations.
Food and monetary donations always are welcome.
Another need in terms of volunteers include help to run arts, music, crafts, and other activities at the Daybreak Adult Day Care Center in Lakewood Ranch.
A list of critical food items is available on the organization’s website, mealsonwheelsplus.org. These, she said, includes canned vegetables and canned fruit, cereal, and staples such as peanut butter and meat and proteins.
She said currently, the organization is on track with its holiday meal initiatives. although it has been a challenge to acquire turkeys for Christmas dinners, along with side dishes.
And while she continues to seek out donations, she said residents of the county are “very thoughtful and very generous,” especially with their time.
“We rely on volunteers to help us and they are an extension of our mission,” she said. “We are so grateful to the community and I always say Manatee County takes care of Manatee County.”
Ian Swaby is a reporter for the East County Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands. You will find Ian at everything from Music on Main in Lakewood Ranch to Manatee County Commission meetings.