By Art Myers
September 3, 2013
When I was growing up I really looked forward to the times when we went to grandma's house for a country- cooked feast. In the latest "Art, Do My Job" the tables were turned!
You could say this is one of the biggest and most popular restaurants in Tallahassee, but no customers ever eat here. Welcome to Meals on Wheels.
Mike Henderson, the Nutrition Director, says the cooks get here early.
"The cooks are normally here at 4 a.m.and they start preparing the meal for that day."
The meal for this day?
Chicken, turnip greens and beans.
Will Brooks and his staff of just seven other kitchen workers turn out a thousand meals a day for senior citizens in the Tallahassee area, but it takes hundreds of volunteers to deliver them to the homes of hungry seniors.
They use everything from mini-vans to bicycles.
"We got meals on two wheels!" says Henderson.
Bob Register has been a Meals on Wheels volunteer for almost two decades.
"This is where we are, we have to load up," says Bob as we head toward his SUV with a couple of coolers full of food.
One of our first stops- the home of Mary Francis Miller
Mary Francis has lived in her Tallahassee home for more than 50 years.
It seems we have something in common. When she mentioned her birthday was coming up, I asked the exact date. She said August twentieth.
I told her that was my birthday too.
Her response: "Oh really? I was born at 12:00 on a Sunday right after church and ready for lunch!"
She loves Meals on Wheels because it helps her stay in her own home with a little independence..
It was tough to pull ourselves away, but our next stop was calling.
" This stuff stays really, really hot, doesn't it?" I comment to Bob as we get ready to deliver another meal.
It was clear Ruth Weston was impressed with my mentor.
" I just love him. He's good about gettin' here on time," said the meals on wheels recipient
Bob's a retired tire salesman and doesn't mind putting a few miles on his own vehicle for a good cause.
I asked if there were some especially memorable deliveries he'd made.
" Yes, two or three of those where people were missing limbs," replied Bob. "It really melted your heart."
Bob has battled cancer himself, and at 86 is older than some of his clients, but he wouldn't dream of quitting.
"It's just a simple rule, you get paid back double. And my life, my family has shown that."
The recent sequestration cuts in Washington have really hit hard at Elder Care Services.
CEO Mark Baldino says the situation makes for difficult choices. "So the question is, ' do we cut meals, or do we cut people?'"
Baldino says a major fund-raising event helped them avoid cutting any meals. And he says the volunteers are willing to make even greater sacrifices.
"They came to me in my office and said, 'Look, we know you're struggling with this. If you have to cut, don't cut my route. I'll personally pay for it for my clients."
Our next stop was Joan Mayo's place.
Joan loves Bob and says he "never has a bad day, never!"
She also appreciates the convenience and savings of Meals on Wheels.
"Especially for older people who can't cook and can't do. It's wonderful"
At one point in our mission I took a break and Bob couldn't seem to find me when he was ready to hand out another meal. He finally gave up and opened the hatch of the SUV only to find me munching on an extra meal.
"Art, you're supposed to be delivering this, not eating it!
"I just wanted to make sure the quality was top notch, and it is, I responded." It's delicious!"
I was getting a free lunch out of this deal, but I asked Mark Baldino why he was doing this after a successful career at IBM.
His response: " Do you have a grandmother? I'm doing it because they are wonderful people. And we probably do a disservice to our elders in this country. They are so much more valued in other countries. I think everybody deserves to live out their lives in a way that you and I would like to live out our lives. As I wrapped up my mission with Bob, he drove off happily and yelled "Happy meals!" out the window as he headed for home.
Many people are not aware that Elder Care Services can help families come up with a care plan for seniors providing everything from in-home companionship to light housekeeping and transportation.
There's even what's called Elder Day Stay where seniors can come for the day. Just get in touch with Elder Care services at 850-921-5554.