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Client: 9 millionth Meals on Wheels delivery 'g-o-o-d'

BRADENTON — Evangeline Hall was already in her recliner with a tray on her lap Tuesday morning when Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee arrived to deliver the 9 millionth meal in the organization’s history.

“Congratulations,” Chief Executive Officer Ellen Campbell said as she eased through the sliding glass door of Hall’s Second Street West home. “You’re the winner.”

Campbell and the Rev. Kenneth Baar, who created the local Meals on Wheels chapter 38 years ago, delivered the milestone meal to an appreciative Hall, a client for 13 years.

Before Hall could dig in, though, there was confusion among the Meals on Wheels management, unaccustomed to delivering meals, about whether there was actually food at the bottom of the carrying case. During the delay, Hall, 94, entertained the media and Meals on Wheels officials by yelling rhetorical questions to her niece, Jannine Austin.

“How do I know my youth is all spent?” Hall asked. “Because my get up and go done got up and went.”

Finally, the meal was found under a partition, and Hall called for her fork to tackle the Southern-themed fare of catfish, cheese grits, steamed tomatoes, cole slaw and milk.

“My favorite: fish,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite meals. ... G-o-o-d, good.”

Baar, a former pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bradenton, started Meals on Wheels of Manatee Inc. in 1972 after recognizing a need in seniors who called his ministerial association’s assistance hot line. Today, Meals on Wheels PLUS delivers about 800 meals per weekday — about 4,000 per week or 220,000 per year.

“To me, it’s amazing that we have reached that point where you can celebrate what has been done,” Baar said.

Campbell said Tuesday’s milestone speaks to the organization’s steady presence in the community.

“One of the things we’re proudest about is the fact that we never have a waiting list,” she said. “If you need a meal today, we get you a meal today. ... Does that mean we’re in the black all the time? No. But it means that people will eat.”

Also Tuesday, Meals on Wheels PLUS celebrated the completion of a new walk-in cooler/freezer at its 23rd Avenue East facility. The cooler/freezer, which is 14 feet wide by 28 feet long, was funded by grants from the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, Manatee Memorial Hospital, Walmart and Meals on Wheels Association of America.

Meals on Wheels PLUS Board Chairperson Virginia Orenstein and Manatee Memorial Hospital Foundation Chairman Vernon DeSear cut the ribbon on the new facility. The project took two years and more than $100,000 to complete because Meals on Wheels had to rewire its facility and redo the roof to accommodate the cooler/freezer, according to Kristen Theisen, the organization’s chief development officer.

Having the freezer will allow Meals on Wheels to offer clients alternatives to the scheduled menu each day. Alternate meals will be cooked and flash-frozen for easy access.

“Now I have a place to store it. I had no place to keep it before,” Campbell said.