Beginning 40 years ago with only 14 deliveries, Meals on Wheels now delivers an average of 70 lunches a day, five days a week, to Sedalia’s elderly, seniors, home bound and handicapped, all done by volunteers who add a touch of love and concern.
Board President Jill Haney said when she is asked to speak, she tries to clear up some misconceptions about the Meals on Wheels program.
“One of the things we run across when we’re out in the public speaking is that one of the biggest misconceptions about Meals on Wheels is that we’re part of the (Sedalia) Senior Center,” she said. “People will say ‘you’re part of the Senior Center program aren’t you?’ And I’ll say ‘no we’re totally separate.’ They have their program and we have ours. And their’s is a little bit different because they only serve the seniors, and we have a vast area of people that we’re able to serve. We don’t limit it to just senior citizens.
“Also too, a lot of time people don’t know that we don’t receive any state or federal funds at all,” she added. “Which a lot of programs like ours do, but we don’t. I would say that a good percent of our budget is compensated by the United Way funds that we get. And then we have two fundraisers a year that our board members and volunteers come and work at. So we use that money to help subsidize the cost of the meals. And we get a lot of private donations.”
The program runs on a budget of $70,000 to $80,000 a year and has gone 40 years with no interruption of services, Haney said. The backbone of the group is Director Shirley Homan who holds everything together, Haney added. Homan has been the director for more than 10 years.
“She is our godsend to our program,” Haney said. “She is a part-time employee, but she runs our program completely, day in and day out. She does everything, she organizes groups, gets all the volunteers scheduled through the whole year for their weeks.”
At present Meals on Wheels has five routes inside the city limits and if someone becomes ill and can’t deliver, Homan finds a replacement among the organizations.
“Or she jumps in her truck and does it herself,” Haney said.”We just love her to death, she’s just awesome.”
Homan and Haney said Meals on Wheels was originally started by Pastor John Thornberry because he saw a need in the community.
“We still have one member who was with the original group that started deliveries and that’s Don Morton, he used to be the librarian at the Public Library,” Homan said. “And he still delivers for East Sedalia Baptist Church.”
Meals normally run $3 per day, but if someone can’t pay that amount the group works with them.
“The food is prepared by Sedalia Food and Vending up at Tyson’s cafeteria,” she said. “And we have 22 churches and organizations that do our delivery. Betsy (Charles) is in this week, she’s our coordinator for First United Methodist.”
Homan added with a smile that many of the volunteer groups are “rowdy” and enjoy having a good time and fun while dipping plates to deliver. They also grow close to the people receiving the deliveries and build trust and a family-like atmosphere.
“It’s a blessing doing this,” said volunteer Betsy Charles. “I just can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it, I really can’t.”
Charles said many times the people are waiting at the door for volunteers, making it easy to become attached to them.
“They are anxious to see you,” she said. “And then when you come back a few months later and do the route again and that person’s not there any more … they’ve had to go to assisted living or something, you really do miss them.”
“Our volunteers really do more than just take a meal to these people,” Haney said.
Charles said once when she delivered food she helped an elderly woman figure out how to turn her radio on. The woman was standing in the middle of the floor with the cord draped over her arm, but didn’t understand she needed to plug it into the outlet.
“I turned to leave and she said ‘wait a minute, how do I turn it off?’” Charles added.
Homan often writes notes on the volunteer cards letting them know if mail or the newspaper needs to brought to the door for a particular client. Volunteers also go in and cut the clients food if they need assistance, Charles said, or open pill bottles or containers.
“It means so much to them, and it’s such a little thing to ask,” Charles said.
“There’s been several times our volunteers have found people down on the floor,” Homan added. “And they have stayed with them until we could get somebody there or an ambulance.”
Both Homan and Haney said without the assistance and help of so many others in the community — such as Sedalia Food and Vending who lets the program have a building space at 2311 W. Main St. rent and utility free — Meals on Wheels wouldn’t be able to do what they do on a daily basis.
“Basically we just want to let everybody know how much we appreciate all their support,” Haney said. “All their donations that they make for us to be able to keep this program up and running. And how proud we are of to have served Sedalia for 40 years and provide the service to our community.”
The next Meals on Wheels fundraiser will be its annual Golf Tournament, June 7 at Triple Creek Golf Course in Cole Camp. Those interested in participating or businesses wanting sponsorships for holes and banners can call Haney at 826-6644. The Masonic Lodge Scottish Rite will also have a fundraising pancake breakfast from 7 a.m. to noon Saturday at 601 W. Broadway. The cost is $5 and all the proceeds goes to Meals on Wheels.
For more information call Homan at 826-5039.