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Finding wheels for their meals

When the third hurricane hit Florida _ we won't mention the two still looming out in Atlantic _ theories abounded about the impact the storms might have on tourists and winter residents coming to the Sunshine State.

I reasoned Florida's resiliency would bear out, but it appears the weather is keeping some people away. The hurricane forces that blew in over the past five weeks now may be taking some of the air out of Meals On Wheels of Tampa.

Agency officials usually see an increase in volunteer drivers in the fall, but not so this year. Drivers are having to take on extra routes to get meals to the homebound. For many people, it's the only hot food they get all day.

"It may be that the recent hurricanes have caused many snowbirds to stay put for the time being," said Elaine Hammonds, volunteer director for the agency.

The organization is seeking kind-hearted souls who have an extra two to four hours a month. Volunteers should have their own vehicle, a current driver's license and insurance. In exchange, they are rewarded with the satisfaction of giving back and the joy of new-found friendships.

Call (813) 238-8410, visit www.mealsonwheelstampa.com or stop by the office at 550 W Hillsborough Ave.

If you want to know: how rewarding it is to volunteer for Meals On Wheels, you can ask one of the nearly 600 monthly volunteers. Or you can ask the folks at Outback Steakhouse. On Sept. 8-9, the agency was unable to deliver meals because of a power outage.

But Outback co-founder Bob Basham helped put together a team that provided meals from Carrabba's Italian Grill on Sept. 8. Outback Catering lent a hand on Sept. 9. Meals On Wheels executive director Debra Gordon specifically credited Carrabba's Marty Reichentahl, Joel Barker and Jaime Froehlich and Outback Catering's Misha Hart.

Gordon also thanked former county commissioner and Clerk of the Circuit Court candidate Chris Hart for helping the agency make the initial connection with the Outback folks.

Here's an update on the Congressional Cuban family travel amendment I wrote about last week.

The amendment, which would repeal the restrictions President Bush has placed on family travel to Cuba, cleared a major hurdle when it was approved by the House late Tuesday.

The amendment, submitted by U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, would reinstate the previous policy allowing relatives to visit their families in Cuba once a year without having to apply for a license. Relatives also would be permitted to apply for licenses for additional emergency trips, and the visits would be extended to include aunts, uncles and cousins.

Bush's policy, implemented on June 30, restricted trips to once every three years and allowed Cuban-Americans to visit only mothers, fathers and siblings.

The amendment passed 225 to 174 but still needs Senate approval. And it's not clear if the Senate will vote on the amendment before adjourning next month.

For the record, Davis supports the travel embargo but said Congress must find ways for the United States and Cuba to pursue a more positive relationship that mutually benefits all Cubans.

If history is any indication, I'll probably get another slew of e-mails on this extremely controversial topic. And I welcome them. The more information I receive, the easier it is to form an opinion.

Right now, the responses collide like head-on trains. Arguments on the Cuban embargo are like a weather forecast. Some say it's going to be bright and sunny and some say it's going to be dark and stormy.

I wonder if the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hoopersptimes.com.

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