A local man and his wife were volunteer drivers for Berkeley County Meals on Wheels for years, which made them realize the importance of the service provided by the nonprofit organization.
However, life has turned this particular man upside down after the death of his wife, forcing him to rely on the services he once rendered voluntarily.
“Registration was easy, all dietary needs were catered for and my first hot meal was delivered the next day,” he said in a testimonial provided to the organization. “To tell the truth, I was surprised and delighted by the variety of dishes and the careful preparation of the platters. Only one change I would suggest. This would be a label that reads: “Your meals-on-wheels staff’s home cooking”. The meals are so delicious. Truly, you are a lifesaver.
Berkeley County and many other local nonprofits related to food service — and many not — are currently participating in the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle’s Unity Campaign, 12 Days of Giving that helps support the efforts of organizations and fill the gaps for those in need.
For Dianne Waldron, executive director of Berkeley County Meals on Wheels, service is invaluable, but it can’t be done right without the word dignity.
“He’s able to stay independent in his own home because of our service,” Waldron said. “That’s huge. This guy served our country — not that non-veterans aren’t as important — but what I’m trying to say is that they’re not numbers to us. They really are people, and they are people who have contributed to our community, to our society, and to our United States of America, and they deserve the dignity of having a meal at home so that they can stay at home in a way independent.
For this man and so many others, Meals on Wheels in Berkeley and Jefferson Counties offers the opportunity to stay independent, at home without too much hassle. For some, the struggle comes in the form of the physical labor required to prepare a meal. For others, getting out of the house is difficult, and others, Meals on Wheels is the best choice financially, charging a minimal amount for a hot, nutritious meal a day.
The service also serves as that peace of mind that someone will check on customers.
“It’s really important, because the people we deliver rely on it because for a lot of them it’s the only meal they’ll get in a day, it’s the only person they’ll see in a day,” Waldron said.
Jefferson County MOW President Beverley Ryan and long-time volunteer Evelyn Dailey recounted a recent incident where a driver discovered a customer had fallen some time before, the driver being able to call 9-1-1 and join the family. Another client, the volunteers, noticed a deterioration in his health, which led the organization to take extra precautions to carry out daily visual checks to ensure his safety.
“We don’t want to find him in the situation where we found the other gentleman,” Dailey said.
Ryan added: “I used to drive a little. It’s really important, because sometimes we’re the only person they see that day. It gives them satisfaction that someone is looking after them, and it gives us satisfaction to know that our customers are doing well. »
More than a quick check-in, it’s a sense of security, with drivers and customers forming a caring and trusting relationship in a world that isn’t always caring or trusting.
“They know. They say, ‘You’re new, aren’t you?’ It’s a relationship,” said Mala Sundaresan, board member and backup driver.
Waldron added, returning to that word dignity, “And we built that relationship. When they call here, I try to continue this relationship making sure I don’t fire them. As busy as you may be, you don’t want to fire anyone.
Sundaresan spoke of a customer whose grandchildren rushed to greet her when she was replaced as the driver, giving her surprise hugs.
“It’s their thing. I did not expect that. It was my first time driving on this road. The kids came running out and just hugged me,” Sundaresan said. “She’s like, ‘They do this to everybody, people who drive, for a thank you.’ It’s just wonderful.
Sundaresan called volunteering a humbling experience as she learned to understand the scope of what Meals on Wheels does and the importance and passion behind the organization from both volunteers and customers. The board member commented on the burden this takes away not only from clients but also from their families, who have other responsibilities that take them away from caring for their loved one.
“They share how important it is, because maybe they’re working, they have their family, but they also have an aging parent,” she said. “I’m kind of into this area of looking after kids and looking after parents, in the sandwich generation, and it’s tough. If you have another outlet, something that helps with meal delivery, that’s a huge help for the kids too.
In places like Jefferson County, where drivers serve all areas outside of Charles Town — where senior services typically handle them — it allows those seniors to stay safe at home when getting around may not be easy, areas like Chestnut Hill, Summit Point, Harpers Ferry, Bakerton and more.
Waldron said funds raised through the Unity campaign will help offset running costs as customers have expressed concern about what will happen due to rising food and gas costs. Waldron praised the drivers for not complaining — especially given the hundreds of miles frequently driven by some — about gas prices, though falling numbers are a real possibility.
The executive director said the organization spends about $10,000 a month on food and expenses, with the Unity campaign helping bridge the gap between money taken from customer payments and actual expenses.
With the partial match dollars as an added bonus, Waldron and Sundaresan stressed that now is the time to donate if anyone is planning on doing so, because the money will go a little further. For those unable to donate financially or volunteer, Waldron stressed the importance of spreading the word during this vital 12-day period.
“What they can do for us, and a gentleman like the gentleman we deliver to, all the people we help, is just let your neighbors, friends and church members know about this campaign and know the impact what she’s going to have for us. We’re a non-profit organization. We rely on donations,” Waldron said.
Thanks to the dedication of volunteers, the Berkeley County organization was able to deliver more than 52,000 meals uninterrupted in 2021 amid the ongoing pandemic.
Ryan echoed the importance of the Unity campaign, emphasizing his gratitude for any chance to raise funds and the wonderful team of volunteers who keep the operation running.
“We are forever grateful, forever grateful for any chance we have to get out there and raise money for our organization,” she said.
To donate to Berkeley County Meals on Wheels, Jefferson County Meals on Wheels, or any other Unity 2022 Campaign nonprofit, visit the campaign page on the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, www.uwayep.org.