Inside the current Meals on Wheels Tampa kitchen, steaming Cuban pork and black beans are being portioned and packaged, ready for volunteers to deliver to doorsteps.
Thanks to the success of the organization’s recently accomplished capital campaign, more homebound individuals will soon receive meals beginning mid-summer of 2020. Smiles continue to be a la carte at no additional charge.
The recent Meals on Wheels Tampa capital campaign culminated with $5 million raised. The funds are being used to construct a larger building to increase meal volume and supply office staff with needed space. JVB Architect, LLC and Azzarelli Builders are partnering with Meals on Wheels Tampa for the project, which will feature new refrigerators, freezers, and a kitchen footprint designed for efficiency.
Located next to the current Meals on Wheels building on West Hillsborough Avenue just west of Interstate 275, the new location will span about 9,600 square feet. A well-designed kitchen with multiple food preparation stations is its cornerstone. Upon completion, the existing building will be demolished and replaced with parking spots and a pavilion.
“Currently, we’re serving so many people that we’re bursting at the seams,” says Senior Development Officer Cindy Vann.
Every day, Vann says, it’s a rush to fill orders; limited storage makes it difficult to stockpile ingredients. Meals like Vann’s personal favorite, eggplant parmesan, are carefully crafted for 850 homebound people; an additional 500 meals go to nonprofits who contract with the agency. The larger kitchen will allow for twice that amount of meals to go out the door daily and allow for specialized menus and other program innovations.
“We want to develop a strictly diabetic menu as well as 5-day frozen meal options for those who can benefit,” Vann says. “Our new kitchen will make that possible.”
Just don’t expect Meals on Wheels Tampa to morph to a once-weekly meal delivery service. Vann cites volunteer interaction with the homebound as just as nourishing as the balanced meal inside the food tray. As the population continues to age, she says, having the promise of solid nutrition and someone who shows up regularly to converse is invaluable.
“It’s difficult to age in our society,” she says. “With the rising costs of healthcare, the longer we can keep people happy and at home, the better.”
Vann was a longtime volunteer before she assumed her current role with the organization some eight years ago, and she continues to witness firsthand how a friendly volunteer and a hot meal affect lives. The transaction is not one-sided.
“When you hand someone a meal, it changes both of you,” she says.
The Tampa Bay community seems to agree, as the capital campaign was accomplished through private donations. Meals on Wheels Tampa is a nonprofit that is completely funded by the private sector and has been since delivering its first meal 45 years ago. Private funding offers an ability to address needs immediately, Vann says. Still, the funding gap for individuals is significant: Only about 30% of program participants can afford the $5.50/meal cost. The rest receive meals on a sliding scale or free of charge.
How to help
With more meals to deliver on the horizon, more volunteers will be needed to get them from Point A to Point B. That’s where volunteer drivers come into the equation. Discover how you can become a Meals on Wheels volunteer by clicking here