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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Meals on Wheels deserves our support

When I have to be somewhere early in the morning, I usually wake up half a dozen times before I have to, stare at the clock and then roll over wanting to be sure not to oversleep.

It didn’t help that I was going to a fundraiser where they would be asking for money, playing the usual sappy film with the sappy piano music in the background while feeding us a fru-fru breakfast of fruit and yogurt and then hitting the crowd for money.

Making matters worse, it was a rainy morning with thunder rumbling in the distance — a great morning to roll over and get a little more sleep.

These fundraisers are all pretty much the same, no matter the social ill or dread disease. But they are critical to the survival of the nonprofit organizations, especially the ones that take no government help, determined to make their own decisions.

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The event at Higgins Hall was the annual Meals on Wheels breakfast, and when Amy Shimberg calls and says to be there, you are there and on time. The Shimbergs are, of course, one of Tampa’s great names, and their philanthropy in the arts and so many causes has made a real difference in our community.

You might not suspect any of that if you didn’t know her background. Soft-spoken and modest, Mrs. Shimberg has been a volunteer for close to 40 years. She is so dedicated that at a function for the organization several months ago she showed up the day after breaking her arm.

She walks the walk, loading up a car and heading out every week to her route, which includes some of the rougher parts of town.

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Higgins Hall was packed when I arrived, with well over 500 people. I guess other people can get up early to support good causes.

I went over to my assigned seat and immediately saw that I would at least be safe from any natural disasters for a couple of hours. They had me sitting at a table that included Monsignor Laurence Higgins, Rabbi Richard Birnholz and the Rev. Jim Holmes, who is the founder of the Judeo Christian Health Clinic.

You could almost feel the goodness permeating around the table. I felt guilty for even considering staying home in bed, especially when I noticed they included a slice of quiche with the fruit plate.

The truth is I am a huge fan of Meals on Wheels. The Tampa branch alone serves more than 750 people a day from its kitchen on Hillsborough Avenue. I should say they serve more than 700 meals because that boxed hot food is often shared or divided up to eat later.

And the meals are only the entree, so to speak. Ask any delivery volunteer and you learn they are often the only human contact the recipients have. They are the only ones who will be there to hear what might be happening to recipients, from health problems to just listening to a story or two.

I’ve been out on a few delivery runs. Every stop is different, but it’s easy to see the bonding between volunteers and their clients.

It’s seldom just a knock on the door and a food drop. It is more likely the high point of the recipient’s day.

Bottom line: This is a well-run organization that lives off donations, performs a tremendous service and could use your help, whether as a volunteer or by giving a financial gift.

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