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Meals on Wheels donor reneges on $550K promise

BRADENTON — Manatee County’s largest charitable food distributor is asking the community for help after one of its donors reneged on a sizable pledge.

Officials at Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee say an individual business owner has walked away from $550,000 of a promised capital contribution without explanation.

They declined to name the donor and said the unpaid portion represents about two-thirds of the individual’s overall pledge.

The unpaid portion of the pledge accounts for about 9 percent of a $6 million capital fundraising campaign that resulted in the construction of Renaissance on 9th, a senior center and multipurpose facility on Ninth Street West that opened in May 2008.

Meals on Wheels Plus President and CEO Ellen Campbell said the nonprofit still owes about $950,000 on the building and was counting on the donation to take care of more than half of the remaining debt.

“As a result, we had to take out a larger mortgage than anticipated. That in turn results in a larger debt obligation we were not expecting at all,” Campbell said. “We’ve done every cut we can internally. We’ve been meeting the need, but it’s been more of a struggle.”

Founded in 1972, Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee runs the Food Bank of Manatee, which distributed enough food for 1.5 million meals in 2008.

Campbell said overall donations are down, while the need has increased this holiday season. Several other pledges have fallen through the cracks as businesses have curtailed giving during economic struggles, she said.

But the loss of a large individual donation hurts the most, officials said.

“As a business owner and a member of the community, we are all facing difficult times,” said Darrel Turner, chairman of the Meals on Wheels PLUS board. “Operating a business means depending upon a person to meet his or her obligations. Character and integrity are two of the most important characteristics I value in others. It is even more important to me when Meals on Wheels PLUS is involved.”

Campbell said the nonprofit appealed for help “to see if we can have the community rally around and see if we can make this a more manageable debt.”

To make a donation, call the “Meals on Wheels Holiday Hotline” at (941) 747-4655, ext. 245.