Lakewood Ranch Rotary grants aid Manatee, Sarasota groups in need

jbartolone@bradenton.comMarch 21, 2014 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- All Faiths Food Bank will use the money to help teach low-income families how to make low-cost, nutritious meals.

The Bashaw Elementary Parent Teacher Organization will spend it on new books to teach students about character.

Some funds will help Tidewell send grief specialists to comfort Manatee students who have suffered the loss of someone close.

And Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida will use the funds to pay for the first set of badges and uniforms for 22 girls in kindergarten and first grade.

In all, 28 organizations will benefit from about $100,000 in grants presented Thursday by the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch, and they'll use them in a variety of ways to help people of Manatee and Sarasota counties.

For many of the groups, "it's a do-or-die situation," said Rotarian Dr. Michael Berlow. Without the funds, certain community programs or initiatives could not continue.

Money for the grants was raised

at the Rotary's annual Suncoast Food & Wine Fest in November at the Sarasota Polo Club. A nine-member Rotary committee chose 28 organizations out of 52 applicants to receive grants.

"There's many needy people in our community and we are happy to make at least a little dent in that need," said Laurie Hagberg, publicity chairwoman for the club, as she presented the grants at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club.

For instance: Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee will spend its grant on 16 electric thermal bags to deliver nutritious meals to homebound and disabled seniors.

Junior League of Manatee County will buy supplies to be used in an incentive program for third- and fourth-graders at Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary in Bradenton who make the honor roll.

Lighthouse of Manasota will spend the funds on computers and adaptive software for people with vision loss.

"I have some teenagers that are going to be very, very happy next week," said Lisa Howard, Lighthouse director of development.

Forty Carrots Family Center in Sarasota will use its grant to buy educational materials to help new parents spend quality reading time with their babies.

"While it looks like puppets and books and rattles that look like toys, it's really good beginnings for children," said Development Director Jennifer Abbot.

The grant awarded to Palmetto-based nonprofit Southeastern Guide Dogs will help cover the cost of raising and training guide dogs to be paired with the visually impaired.

There's about $60,000 in costs associated with every dog pairing, said Southeastern Guide Dogs board member and Lakewood Ranch resident Chris McNamee, who himself is visually impaired.

"That money has to come from some organization or individual like Rotary Club that so generously gives," said McNamee. He and his guide dog of seven years, Max, accepted Thursday's grant.

McNamee, who had to retire in his late 40s because of vision loss, said he's gained mobility, independence and dignity thanks to Max and Southeastern Guide Dogs.

The Rotary's grant could have the same effect for someone else, McNamee said.

"It's life-giving."

Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.

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