LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – In a time when many are disillusioned with the concept of community, people stepped up when a local non-profit organization needed help with not much time to spare.
“Thank you so much because last week, we were really struggling,” said Steve Bissonnette, president of Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE).
For 25 years, VISTE has delivered Thanksgiving dinners to seniors in need. Vera Block has been volunteering since that very first year.
“I thought I’m going to reach that age when I might need help so I try to get my volunteering in now,” she said.
It has grown from 100 meals the first year to 2,000 meals across Lakeland, Bartow, Mulberry and Fort Meade.
Last week, Bissonnette reached out to 8 On Your Side because he needed more delivery drivers.
While last year he had nearly 400 drivers, last week he had just over 200.
Even though the meals would have been delivered, Bissonnette insists on volunteers spending quality time with the seniors.
They couldn’t do that if they were having to race off to the next delivery.
After 8 On Your Side aired a story and VISTE spread the word on social media, volunteers stepped up.
“I had several people call me directly. We had a number of people call to our office. Fortunately, a lot of people just went right to VISTE.org and signed up directly so, yes, we’re absolutely certain that made a big difference,” said Bissonnette.
Cranberry sauce donations also increased after Bissonnette said he needed hundreds of more cans.
“Through a lot of social media and your efforts, we had 350 cans show up at VISTE last Thursday and Friday alone,” said Bissonnette.
Volunteer Patsy Ham packed bags for the first time Wednesday and plans to sign up to deliver meals next year.
“It’s very, very important to help those who can’t help themselves, the elderly, and the people who can’t get out. We need to really step up and help them,” she said.
VISTE delivered Thanksgiving dinners to 1,600 seniors across Polk County Wednesday, an ever-expanding number.
“About 24% of the population in Polk County is 65 and above and that’s being fed by the baby boomer demographic,” said Bissonnette.
VISTE delivers hot meals to seniors every Tuesday and Thursday.
People interested in volunteering can register online at Viste’s website.