By PHYLLIS HODGES
We hear a lot these days about folks “stepping up to the plate” to help others in need of help. One of the newest efforts — Meals on Wheels for Kids (MOW4K) — was launched in March by the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger (the Network). With a startup in Wimauma on June 29, five kid-friendly meals and various shelf-stable groceries are now delivered weekly to homes in five communities. The other four are in Pinellas County and another is poised for startup in Pasco County.
The Network is a nonprofit 501(c)3 agency formed in 2010 to develop a web of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco “members” (individuals and organizations) who could benefit from data gathered by the Network to identify gaps in regional service. It currently has over 400 members. Caitlyn Peacock, the Network’s executive director, said when schools closed due to COVID-19 in March, MOW4K was started to feed children in families unable to access meal distribution sites due to lack of transportation or other prohibitive homebound situations.
The expansion into Wimauma was made possible by a $23,500 donation by the Valencia Lakes Sports Charity. Mike Kates, president, said the funds came from the group’s annual charity drive. This year, the gift was boosted by a gift of $10,500 from Gary and Cyndi Wingo. “Hearing about people losing jobs and families needing food through no fault of their own really touched us that this is happening in our country. We had travel plans that were cancelled and decided this was a good use for that money,” Gary Wingo said.
Each Monday, a cadre of Valencia Lakes volunteers gather at Beth-El Farmworkers Ministry on U.S. 301 to receive a list of recipients from the Network and pack its vehicles with five kid-friendly frozen meals for each child in the home, shelf-stable groceries and fresh produce. Mike Kates, president of the Valencia Lakes group, said they had 18 recipients the first week and now, four weeks into the program, that has grown to 40.
Peacock said the Network’s mission is to help members eliminate barriers, increase access and knowledge, and expand the amount of nutritious food available. MOW4K is continually evaluating its programs and adjusting to provide the most effective service when and where needed.
For information on the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger, visit the website at networktoendhunger.org.