A Quiet, Unassuming But Essential Program

A Quiet, Unassuming But Essential Program

For the past 40 years, volunteers have been bringing food and friendly face, to homebound elderly and disabled people living in Alexandria through a quiet, unassuming, yet vital program called Meals on Wheels.

Ive been a volunteer for the Alexandria Meals on Wheels for 30 years, Janet Deatherage said. It was started here in Alexandria by a group called Church Women United from churches from all over the city.

I have done every job, Deatherage reflected. We went out and organized. We shopped at the Bradley Safeway and made the meals. We were given a shopping list and we then cooled, packed and delivered the meals.

Deatherage remembered that at the beginning volunteers made the food at the Old Presbyterian Meeting house.  From there they went to Emmanuel on the Hill where they had the luxury of a paid cook. Then Alexandria Hospital took on the cooking and now the food is being prepared at the Hermitage.

In 2003, the city contracted out the Alexandria Meals on Wheels program to Senior Services of Alexandria. Brenda Walls was the first person paid to manage the program, which is currently managed by Samantha Pipkin.

She is just the right person for this job, said Janet Barnett, Executive director of Senior Services of Alexandria. She is a very caring, patient person. She is able to respond to last-minute changes and keep the program working.

According to Pipkin, there are eight routes in Alexandria with teams of two delivering one hot and one cold meal to 90 to 100 clients a day.

Some cities have lost volunteers due to the increase in gasoline prices, according to Marley Sweeney, Communications Director for Meals on Wheels Association of America, which is based here in Alexandria. Nationally, 58 percent of programs have lost volunteers due to gas price increases.

This has not been the case in Alexandria, according to Pipkin. Because Alexandria is only 16 square miles and the route driven by each team is a maximum of five miles, gas prices have not been a major factor.

Our program works because of the volunteers, said Pipkin. We have an amazing group of volunteers, including many churches and businesses such as Weichert Realty and the Black Firefighters Association who become key volunteers and take on part of or an entire days deliveries. The Alexandria program served 43,712 meals to approximately 91 clients per month from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008, with 72 volunteers.

I believe that more people would volunteer if they understood that they are not obligating themselves to a set day or a set schedule, said Deatherage. You can be on the list to volunteer for just a few hours a month and you can always change your schedule.

Deatherage said that each person gets one hot meal and one cold. The food is very good, she said.  The hot meals come in a microwavable container that will have a vegetable, some starch like potatoes and a meat entre.  The cold meal is so big and heavy, and it is more than a meal, added Deatherage. Inside the cold meal package will be fruit, breads, salads and items that will last. Meals are only delivered Monday through Friday so these items help over the weekend.

Many MOW programs do not deliver when roads are bad and schools are closed. That is not the case in Alexandria. MaryAnn Griffin, with the Alexandria Office on Aging, will have none of that thinking. We have a group we call snowbuddies, Griffin said. We believed that we should not have to stop and with all those Department of Human Services employees, we dont!

Griffin continued, I might get a call at 4:00 am and the call for volunteers goes out.  I have delivered meals in bad weather myself and the reward was the faces of the people I brought food to. They were virtually in tears when we arrived. Imagine being alone all weekend and then seeing a friendly face at the door and a hot meal.

Deatherage will volunteer for another thirty years if she can. I really like doing this, she said. I like the fact that we connect directly with a person on a one-to-one basis, and one of the volunteers I have partnered with is 94 (years old). 

The City honored the Alexandria Meals on Wheels with a Proclamation on Tuesday, Sept. 9, at City Council. 

To volunteer or to learn more about Meals on Wheels, please contact Samantha Pipkin at Senior Services of Alexandria at 703-836-4414.