MANATEE -- Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston and Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant drove off Wednesday morning to deliver hot food from Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee on Ninth Street East in Bradenton to bolster awareness of homebound senior hunger.
Yet, despite the well-meaning of "Mayors for Meals Day," agency officials were preoccupied by the disturbing news of the impact from impending federal budget cuts to its ability to serve those needy residents.
Due to the ongoing sequestration budget battle in Washington, Meals on Wheels PLUS figures to lose $68,000 from funding for its senior services, a development that troubled several people at Wednesday's event.
"It could be devastating. That's a lot of money," said Maribeth Phillips, the nonprofit's chief executive officer. "We're operating very lean
as it is, so that's lot of funding for us to make up."
Ironically, Meals on Wheels PLUS just received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, America's largest independent evaluator of charities, for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability among other qualities.
"My biggest fear is making up the difference in what we're not going to receive, finding ways to make sure no senior goes without a meal in Manatee County," Phillips said. "We've never turned anyone away."
The targeted funding will run out by October, leaving about 40,000 meals unfunded through year's end.
"It's going to impact the whole community," Mayor Bryant said.
Will Robinson, vice chairman of the board, said they've been lobbying elected officials on the issue.
"We've been in contact with our state and federal partners so they know where we stand and what we need," the attorney said.
Given the partisan climate on Capitol Hill, Mayor Poston wonders if the message will work.
"What the country has done forever is take care of each other and somehow they've lost that in Washington," he said. "They forget it's the people like we're trying to help here who get whipsawed in the debate."
In the meantime, Joe Amato say it's up to volunteers like him and wife, Judy, to make a difference.
"We're going to have to step up more," he said. "We're going to have to seek people to help the program, spread the word to our friends, get the business community to help."
Meals on Wheels PLUS has two fundraisers on tap -- Charity Bar Night on March 27 at Polo Grill, and its 20th annual Tropical Nights on April 13 at Renaissance on 9th.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix