Two prominent Manatee County nonprofits celebrate milestone anniversaries

Two organizations that play key roles in the community's social fabric and civic engagement celebrate milestone anniversaries this week -- Meals on Wheels PLUS on Sept. 21 and Manatee Educational Television on Sept. 22. Both began operations with modest offerings but both have grown to become indispensable to Manatee County.

Forty years after its first delivery of only a dozen meals to the homebound, disabled and elderly, Meals on Wheels today sends out about 1,100 meals daily -- just one of its missions. The nonprofit agency also operates the Food Bank of Manatee, Renaissance on 9th, Daybreak Adult Day Center and Senior Wheels. Today, the organization is hosting open houses at three Bradenton locations.

METV went on the air with a back-to-school special and some college telecourses. Today, preparing for Saturday's sold-out 20th anniversary gala, the nonprofit produces more than 30 original programs each month, focusing on educational, cultural and community issues.

In the beginning, the station relied on material from the Manatee County School Board, Manatee Community College and the University of South Florida as its partners. METV also struggled with funding during its first few years as county commissioners cut its appropriation from the cable television franchise fee down to nothing in 1995-96. At that time, the county was also paying for its own channel.

METV began telecasting school board meetings in 1998, a development that continues to allow residents the convenience of watching their elected officials in action from their own homes.

County commission meetings and other official government proceedings now air as well, a boon to citizen engagement. Candidate forums organized and moderated by the Bradenton Herald have also been an METV staple for years, giving voters an up-close look at their options on the ballot.

Beyond this valuable public service about government and politics, METV provides compelling entertainment and documentaries -- none better than the 2010 feature "Through the Tunnel." Produced by METV station manager Charles Clapsaddle, the film focuses on the all-black Lincoln High School football team's critical role in Manatee County public school integration. he production won the Best Historical Documentary Award at the Miami International Film Festival, certainly a high point for the entire METV staff.

Clapsaddle and his workhorse crew can be found all over Manatee County filming various events, providing residents with a broad spectrum of programming that reveals much about our community.

Meals on Wheels PLUS found perhaps its greatest success with the establishment of Manatee County's first senior citizens center, Renaissance at 9th. Completed four years ago, the big, beautiful building houses the Senior Enrichment Center, the 9th Street Bistro, Generations Gift Shop, Turner Ballroom, catering services and more. Then again, feeding 2,500 people a week -- through Meals on Wheels, the Food Bank and the organization's partners -- is an amazing accomplishment, too.

As Herald columnist Vin Mannix so adeptly portrayed in his Meals on Wheels article Wednesday, the nonprofit has grown exponentially over four decades -- from two volunteers back then to the current 75 employees, 600 volunteers and $8 million budget.

Kudos to METV and Meals and Wheels PLUS for all you do to make this a stronger community. And happy anniversary.

Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee will hold open houses from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the nonprofit's headquarters, 811 23rd Ave. E.; Daybreak Adult Day Center, 2703 19th St. Court E., and Renaissance on 9th, 1816 Ninth St. W. The public is invited.