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Neighbors helping neighbors … 70,000 times

Published on: January 20, 2016

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

At Kings Point's Veterans Theater, hundreds turn out to package 70,000 meals for neighbors in need. Mitch Traphagen photos.

At Kings Point’s Veterans Theater, hundreds turn out to package 70,000 meals for neighbors in need. Mitch Traphagen photos.

Denny Hanson of Sun City Center proposed the idea for Meals of Hope a decade ago to the Rotary Club of Sun City Center.

Denny Hanson of Sun City Center proposed the idea for Meals of Hope a decade ago to the Rotary Club of Sun City Center.

Upwards of 400 volunteers from around the South Hillsborough community turned out at Veterans Theater in Kings Point to provide a year’s worth of meals to area families struggling to put food on the table. It is a case of neighbors helping neighbors, with 70,000 packaged meals the result of two hours of volunteer work.

But, of course, more hours were required behind the scenes.

“This is just wonderful,” said organizer Denny Hanson as he surveyed the scene inside the theater, with volunteers of all ages, from all backgrounds, working to provide sustenance for those less fortunate.

The project is known as Meals of Hope, a 10-year-old organization based in Ft. Myers that has, to date, provided more than 30 million meals through volunteer efforts like those here in Sun City Center.

“Denny brought this to the Rotary Club 10 years ago, and I didn’t think we could do it,” said Jim Wilmouth of the Rotary Club of Sun City Center and a Meals of Hope organizer. “But somehow we did it. We’ve been doing it ever since.”

There are any number of worthwhile causes in South Hillsborough but helping struggling families put food on their tables is surely among the top. In this case, the need is unique in that volunteers are not asked for donations.

“All we ask for is a little bit of time and a little bit of sweat in working,” Wilmouth continued. “We are not asking the volunteers for money. People get asked for money all of the time. Just give us a little time, and that’s all we want. People can help others by just turning out and working for an hour or two.”

James Wilmouth of the SCC Rotary Club is one of the organizers for the annual event. The volunteers filled enough meals to last for a year.

James Wilmouth of the SCC Rotary Club is one of the organizers for the annual event. The volunteers filled enough meals to last for a year.

According to Wilmouth, the hope was for 250 volunteers this year. An estimated 400 people showed up to help.

“We’ll be packing enough meals to last for a year, and then we’ll do it again next year,” he said.

Funding for the annual event comes from the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center as well as from the Rotary Club of Sun City Center. At least 20 area organizations, including churches, brought volunteers to package the meals.

Both Hanson and Wilmouth expressed their gratitude to the Interfaith Council, the Rotary Club and to all of the volunteers.

“Volunteers come from everywhere, from miles around, to help with this,” Hanson said.

According to Hanson, the packaged meals are taken to the food pantry at St. Anne Catholic Church and are then distributed every two weeks to six other area pantries.

With an assembly-line process of filling and sealing bags of meals, the estimated 400 volunteers filled 70,000 meals in two hours on Saturday in the Veterans Theater at Kings Point.

With an assembly-line process of filling and sealing bags of meals, the estimated 400 volunteers filled 70,000 meals in two hours on Saturday in the Veterans Theater at Kings Point.

According to its website, the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center “strives to benefit the lives of the individuals and organizations within South Hillsborough County. Through the cooperation of Houses of Worship and the many volunteers, we have been able to fund the programs, education, and welfare of our many cities. Our purpose is to support programs that enrich the lives of our residents.”

The statement goes on to say that assistance is provided with a driving motivation to develop an understanding among all races, religions and cultures in the area.

The Rotary Club of Sun City Center is a group of business professionals and community leaders who commit time to local and international service projects. The club meets every Tuesday at noon at Freedom Fairways in Sun City Center. Guests are welcome to attend meetings.

For both organizations, the Meals of Hope project is ideally suited to their missions. They are providing a basic necessity to neighbors in need; they are providing hope and allowing the more fortunate among us an opportunity to have a direct impact on the local community without opening their wallets.

The volunteers were of all ages and backgrounds, coming from all corners of South Hillsborough.

The volunteers were of all ages and backgrounds, coming from all corners of South Hillsborough.

Seventy thousand meals is a significant impact. In the decade since Hanson proposed taking on the project, more than a half-million meals have been packaged, all for local distribution. The organizers and volunteers were paid by knowing that children and families will not go hungry, thanks to their efforts. Certainly in this case, just a little bit of time will make a world of difference for a struggling family.

For more information about the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, visit www.interfaithcouncilofsuncity.center.com.

For more information about the Rotary Club of Sun City Center, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RotarySCC.

Significant funding also comes from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, which donated to the Rotary Club half of the money needed to put together Meals of Hope. Rotary President Ron Banaszak said that without the Community Foundation the club would not be able to undertake the project.

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