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Big Wheels Deliver Meals

There were about two-dozen more volunteers than usual delivering Meals on Wheels around Tallahassee on Tuesday, May 12.  They were local civic leaders, including some of the area’s top elected officials.

Elder Care Services of the Big Bend Volunteer Coordinator Michael Hennesy had the Meals on Wheels deliveries ready to go and had instructions for the “big wheels” who’d be taking them to their destinations.

“All of our clients know today that there might be a special guest coming to their door, so they’re looking forward to it,” he told the group as they awaited their assignments.  “So I encourage you to have a conversation, take your time, don’t be in a rush.”

The delivery volunteers included Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

“I’m glad you guys schedule these routes the way that you, because you not only have the pressure of getting these meals out, but you also build in enough of a cushion for folks to check in: ‘How you doing?  What’s going on?  How can we help you?’ that kind of thing,” he said.

Leon County Commissioners John Dailey, Bryan Desloge, Kristin Dozier and Nick Maddox also showed up at the Elder Care headquarters on West Tennessee Street.  Longtime volunteer District Eight State Representative Alan Williams was there, too.  This was the first time in years he wouldn’t be teamed up with Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell who died this past December.

“It’s tough not to do it with my riding buddy,” he admitted with a catch in his voice.

This was the first volunteer Meals on Wheels delivery for Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Sam Verghese who assumed his post in December.

“By nature of what Elder Care’s doing – Meals on Wheels specifically today – it’s a great opportunity where people can have interaction, receive the nourishment that they need, and also show this is state government working for you,” Verghese said.

But the State of Florida only provides a portion of what’s needed.  Elder Care Services Executive Director Mark Baldino said his agency also needs federal support, the reduction of which has meant a significant client waiting list for services.

“Probably about 140.  It’s down and we’re working on it, but we haven’t gotten any more money from the Older Americans Act in years and we can’t raise our meal price, because it cuts the number of meals we can deliver,” he mused.

The United Way of the Big Bend provides funding.  And there’s also a major corporate sponsor, Kia Autosport of Tallahassee, which now supports three Meals on Wheels routes.  Melanie Lee is the dealership’s general manager.  Her commitment to Elder Care Services began and continues on the personal as well as the corporate level.

“It’s a very special hour of my day that doesn’t take a lot of time, but is also giving back to the community that’s given so much to my business and I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” she said.  “But it’s also part of corporate responsibility to give back to the community and I think there should be more private sector involvement in their organizations.”

Elder Care Services Executive Director Baldino hopes support from all sources will continue and even increase.  Especially since the regional Meals on Wheels is almost an endangered species.

“I don’t know that people realize the fact there’s not many of us left to produce a hot meal every day, because without volunteers you just can’t afford to make it and deliver it and the majority of the folks around the state have gone to frozen and having them drop shipped.”

That’s certainly a less personal means of delivery than having folks like Tallahassee’s mayor of the head of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital show up at your door with a piping hot meal and some caring conversation.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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