04/21/09 — Meals on Wheels chooses its first Volunteer of the Year

View Archive

Meals on Wheels chooses its first Volunteer of the Year

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 21, 2009 1:46 PM

Full Size


Andrea Bone, volunteer coordinator for Meals on Wheels, presents the Volunteer of the Year award to George McKenna, a former New York taxi driver who has delivered meals daily for almost two years.

All its volunteers are special, but this year, Meals on Wheels decided to honor one in particular.

George McKenna, a former New York taxi driver, started with the program in May 2007.

"After he'd been delivering for maybe a week or so we managed to get him on the schedule every day," said Andrea Bone, volunteer coordinator for the program. "Ever since, he has delivered meals every single day."

Describing McKenna as a kind, caring man who does more than drop off food -- he actually knows what's going on with each person -- come rain or shine, he is there, Mrs. Bone said.

"He's the first one any time there's a bad weather warning, he'll be there," she said.

Sometimes his role took unexpected turns, said Sue Carter, home assessment coordinator. She shared a letter about the day he discovered a client in her wheelchair, outside in the rain. Recognizing that she was in a diabetic coma, he called emergency personnel and waited there until the ambulance doors were closed.

The woman referred to him as her hero, believing him to have saved her life that day.

Meals on Wheels does not typically hand out awards to its volunteers, believing each to be noteworthy.

But on Monday at its volunteer appreciation luncheon, McKenna was recognized as this year's Volunteer of the Year.

The program is completely dependent on its volunteers, said Brownie Doss, program coordinator, calling them the "heart and soul" of the effort.

"We always say, we deliver meals and much more. You are the 'much more,'" she told the more than 200 gathered at the Wayne Center. "You're a tremendous gift to those people every day."

With 28 delivery routes in the county, last year 1,500 volunteers logged 21,000 hours delivering 75,000 meals, she said.

"With the current situation with our economy and gas prices, I just can't tell you enough about how pleased we are and thankful we are and grateful that you all have continued to deliver meals," she said. "A lot of places across the country and in North Carolina had to cut back. We did not lose any volunteers."

There is a waiting list for services. The program has not added new routes in three or four years, Ms. Doss said.

Currently there is no volunteer coordinator in Fremont or Pikeville, Mrs. Bone added.

The success of the program can be measured by its clients, many whose lives are sustained by the independence it provides.

Ms. Carter told of a patron who will be 102 this year, who had shared how "the meals help me stay in my apartment by myself."

Ms. Carter deals directly with those served by the program. The contact, as well as the meal, means much to them, she said.

"They talk about you like you're their best friends and people that they truly love," she told the audience. "From all routes, from county and city, and from children (of clients) whose mothers and fathers were getting Meals on Wheels and they're not living in this town or able to go by their homes. One of them thinks her son sends friends by every day -- she didn't think she needed Meals on Wheels."

Ethel Barnes became a volunteer to "give back" after her parents had been recipients of the service.

"I did it because it meant so much to my mom and dad and my family to have someone check on them during midday," she said. "It's a wonderful experience, and I take some of my personal time (from work) so that I can do it in memory of my parents."

And sometimes it goes beyond dropping off a hot meal.

Betty Jackson, coordinator of the Mar Mac route, told of a lady who had some holes in her yard that needed dirt. Mrs. Jackson's husband later took over a bucket of soil and filled the holes.

"She called and thanked me for the all the flowers," Mrs. Jackson said. "In that little bit of dirt was one petunia. We never know what one little thing will do to cause someone to be happy."

Teachers at Rosewood Elementary School were also credited with starting a Meals on Wheels project, fundraising for the past two years.

Art teacher Merle Elam and music teacher Marie Batten spearheaded the effort, Ms. Carter said, with classes competing to raise money. In 2007, $2,023 was collected, with $1,013 brought in this year, she said.

"They have worked very hard raising money for our program and our volunteers," she said. "I thought it was a wonderful way to teach children about helping the elderly and the importance of volunteers."