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Manatee Memorial auxiliary honors volunteers

BRADENTON — The Manatee Memorial Hospital Foundation Auxiliary passed out medical scholarships and grants to 27 community groups during its annual celebration luncheon.

The $340,000 distributed Thursday was raised last year at the Manatee Memorial Auxiliary Thrift Shop and hospital gift shop and through private donations. It went to organizations with missions ranging from helping children to training guide dogs to feeding the homeless.

Adding up those funds was the easy part.

Hospital officials say they have a harder time computing the value they get from the other group honored at the luncheon: auxiliary volunteers. A total of 559 volunteers gave 88,766 hours to the hospital in 2009. The foundation said thank you in a packed Turner Ballroom at Renaissance on 9th.

“When you look at the unbelievable amount of hours they contribute and the smiles on their faces and the hugs you get, it’s priceless,” MMH Foundation Executive Director Vernon DeSear said. “You couldn’t put a monetary amount on it, to me anyway. ... They’re a part of our family.”

Volunteers help at the hospital and the thrift and gift shops, and include teen volunteers and On the Job Training students.

Bradenton’s Martha Wiebe received a lapel pin to commemorate her 10,000 hours of service. The 85-year-old said she does office work and sews ice bag covers for patients who undergo surgery.

Martha trails her 84-year-old husband, Ben, who has passed the 11,000-hour mark. The couple decided to join the auxiliary in 1991 after receiving financial help with medical insurance from Bradenton Missionary Village, where they live.

It was the Wiebes’ way to give something back.

“I love to be needed,” Martha said. “I love to be there for people to share with me. I’ve had awesome opportunities to share my own passion and what I believe.”

The auxiliary raised a total of about $427,000 in 2009, thanks in large part to a banner year by the thrift shop, which brought in $380,000. The auxiliary spent an additional $60,000 to help fund a Florida State University doctor of nursing program at State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota’s Lakewood Ranch campus.