At 7 years old, Ella Mae Konrad can’t yet drive or even sit in the front seat of the car, but she is strong enough to carry a soft-sided cooler, so this past summer, on days that her “Pa Pa The Great” Maurice Hillermann was delivering for Meals on Wheels, she tagged along.
He carried the plastic cooler filled with hot meals to his car, and she carried the soft cooler filled with cold meals. As they arrived at each client’s door, they would find the right meals in their coolers and walk them to the door together. The clients were delighted by the sweet surprise, and Ella Mae loved being able to help.
“They’d make (a fuss) over her, and she thrived on that,” said Doris Hillermann, Maurice’s wife, who also used to volunteer with Meals on Wheels. “She told her mom that first time, ‘It was a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be. People were so nice!’ ”
Hearing that makes Maurice Hillermann proud. He invited her along with him the first time as a way to introduce her to the importance of volunteering.
Maurice has been a Meals on Wheels volunteer for 10 to 12 years now. He usually delivers every other week, in addition to the two days a week that he volunteers at the St. Francis Borgia Food Pantry.
Karen Chrisco, coordinator for this Meals on Wheels program affiliated with Mercy Hospital Washington, said she’d love to see more of the volunteers bringing their children and grandchildren along with them. If it’s during the school year, volunteers can request a Saturday or Sunday, or if it’s during holiday or summer breaks, they can simply bring them along.
“Make it a family affair,” Chrisco remarked.
For preteens and teens, volunteering with Meals on Wheels qualifies for service hours, but Chrisco says it’s also an excellent opportunity for family bonding and showing support for the community.
Brooke Lange, a sophomore at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, is one of her school’s Student Council members who volunteer to deliver meals once a month.
Two StuCo members sign up to cover each month’s shift, and they deliver the meals together. It’s both a chance for the upperclassmen and underclassmen to get to know each other and it’s fun, Lange told The Missourian.
“The Meals on Wheels experience is so fun and really enjoyable because you get to help others, as well as bond with whomever you are delivering with,” she said. “From trying to figure out where you’re delivering to or just engaging in conversation with whomever you’re doing this with, you really make positive memories.”
Nicole Addison, moderator for the SFBRHS StuCo, said there are a number of reasons why volunteering for Meals on Wheels is beneficial for high school-age students.
“I think that the students get a chance to connect with members from their community that they wouldn’t ordinarily know, but who need a little assistance and actually feel like they have really helped someone that day,” said Addison. “I hope from their experience they understand how important it is to give back and want to do more.”
Lange plans to do just that.
“I definitely believe I will keep doing volunteer work like Meals on Wheels after high school. It’s such a positive experience that I will want to share it with people even when I’m finished with college,” said Lange.
A Challenge to Classes of ’67 to ’70
In addition to challenging young people to tag along with their parents or grandparents on meal deliveries, Chrisco would like to see more people from her own age bracket joining the Meals on Wheels volunteer roster, people from the Classes of 1967 to ’70 in particular.
It’s time for young retirees to step up, said Chrisco, noting that many of the program’s core volunteers are getting older and having a harder time with the deliveries than they used to.
Delivering meals involves a lot of getting in and out of your car, said Chrisco, which is much more challenging for people in their 80s than in their 60s.
Right now the Meals on Wheels program has around 100 volunteers, which sounds like a lot, said Rita Kuchem, volunteer coordinator, but most only want to do it once a month, and with at least three volunteers needed each day to cover three routes seven days a week, that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room.
Kuchem works with volunteers who have specific days they are able to volunteer and those that they aren’t. Sunday is the hardest day to schedule, said Kuchem.
There are fewer meals to deliver on the weekends, Kuchem noted, pointing out that clients generally don’t sign up to receive meals every day of the week.
More Than 10,000 Meals a Year
The Washington Meals on Wheels program served 10,280 meals to 79 clients during the last fiscal year (September 2016 through August 2017).
Currently the program has 42 active clients receiving meals. Monthly deliveries can vary between 780 to 944 meals, said Chrisco.
Reserved for the elderly and the disabled, the Meals on Wheels program provides two meals — one hot, one cold — for each day a client requests. Meals are prepared by staff at Mercy Hospital Washington.
Cost is $3.50 per meal, for clients who can afford to pay it, said Chrisco.
Last year, approximately 67 percent of the cost was covered by clients, she said. The balance was covered by a $13,000 allocation from the Franklin County Area United Way and $1,600 in donations from companies, service organizations and private donors.
“What we appreciate about (Mercy Hospital Washington) is that they keep the prices as low as they have,” said Chrisco.
The meals are nutritious and accommodate all special diets — cardiac, low sodium, mechanically soft, diabetic . . . whatever the client’s need is.
Kuchem said she has known some clients for whom their Meals on Wheels was the only food they had for the day.
Doris Hillermann noted that one client recently told her husband when he was delivering that she didn’t know what she would have done without the Meals on Wheels volunteers when she was recovering after a fall that broke her hip
“ ‘I didn’t have anybody else,’ she told him.”
‘You Feel a Connection’
Susan Harms, who has been delivering for Meals on Wheels for two years and in June began serving as treasurer, said in her experience the best part of volunteering is visiting with the clients.
“Sometimes it’s a quick visit, just ‘Hi, how are you?’ Other times you talk a little longer. Sometimes you go in to their home, if they ask you to bring the meal inside,” said Harms, noting that can spark conversations about family photos or collections they have on display.
“You just kind of feel a connection with them,” she said.
Mona Slocum, who has been delivering for Meals on Wheels three times a month for nearly 30 years, started volunteering as a way to get out of the office for a little bit once in a while, but now that she’s retired, it gives her something to look forward to.
“I was born and raised in Washington, so I know lots of people. A lot of them I’ve known since I was a kid. So it’s nice to visit with them and see them,” said Slocum.
“I don’t spend a lot of time visiting with them. A lot of times they meet me at the door, but then I take a few minutes with them.”
The work is enjoyable and easy, and the clients are almost always happy and pleasant.
“Very seldom does anyone complain or be crabby with you. They are just always friendly and happy to see you. And thankful that you are doing it,” said Slocum.
She laughs remembering a little trouble she ran into a few months ago when a new client was added to her route, but Slocum didn’t recognize the street name. She called a friend to ask if she knew where it was and the friend started laughing.
“ ‘It’s right behind your house! It’s in your backyard!’ she said. So we laughed about that because there wasn’t a street in my backyard before,” Slocum recalled.
Celebrating 45 Years
The Washington Meals on Wheels program that is affiliated with Mercy Hospital Washington celebrated its 45th anniversary last month with a luncheon to recognize longtime volunteers, Clare Huber, who was involved from the beginning, and Sue Jones, who served as treasurer for 27 years and currently still volunteers to deliver meals.
“We had a lot less people we delivered to back then,” Jones said, of when she began serving as program treasurer. “It was a simple record-keeping process.”
In addition to serving as treasurer, Jones made deliveries every Thursday in the early years.
“We all kind of did that back when it started,” she said.
Huber, as the program coordinator for so many years, always filled in whenever a scheduled volunteer didn’t show up or in emergencies. She and her family also volunteered to deliver meals on Christmas, something they continue to do today.
“There aren’t as many meals delivered on Christmas as other days, so it really doesn’t take up a lot of time,” said Mary Kay Daugherty, Huber’s daughter. “We like doing it.
“When we were growing up, that was just one of the things we had to do as part of our Christmas,” said Daugherty. “Mom and Dad just said, ‘We’re doing this.’ ”
Clare and her husband Bill Huber also delivered meals on Sundays for many years.
“They took it very seriously,” said Daugherty. “It was their mission to make sure people got food every day.”
Began in 1972
The Meals on Wheels program got its start in 1972, after Christine Todd read about the program being offered in another community. She felt there was a need for a meals program in Washington and spoke to others in the community and her church group about organizing one.
In June 1972, 12 people gathered for a planning session. They included:
The Rev. Ken Yerkes, general chairman;
Clare Huber chaired the clients task force with Julie Perry, Charlotte Leiweke and the Rev. Arthur Ebeling;
Sister Mary Hermann chaired the delivery task force with Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Knocke;
Eldred Niemeyer chaired the finance task force with Nathan Oberg; and
Margaret Jones chaired the publicity task force with Kim Parks and Christine Todd.
The Meals on Wheels office was located at the Presbyterian Church and the meals were prepared at the hospital.
The program received a one-time grant of $6,000 from Jefferson-Franklin Community Action.
The first meals were delivered to the first two clients on Sept. 15, 1972, by volunteers Julie Nilson and Vera Niemeyer.
The United Fund of Washington began underwriting the program in 1976 and still does today (as the Franklin County Area United Way).
In June 1990, the program was restructured and Clare Huber was given the title of coordinator.
Today, Carol Hackmann at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Washington serves as the intake coordinator. People call her at 636-239-6176 to sign up.
The volunteer scheduling was originally managed by Sue Anderson, who still volunteers to deliver meals. She handed the reins to the late Shirley Holtmeyer, who passed them on to Kuchem.
For more information on becoming a volunteer or to sign up, call Rita Kuchem at 636-239-7114.
For more information about the program, to make a donation or to have Meals on Wheels give a presentation, contact Chrisco at 636-432-1870.
United Way Funding, Donations, Memorial Gifts
The Washington Meals on Wheels program is deeply indebted to the United Way for its annual allocation to the program.
“Without its support, the program could not exist,” said Kuchem. “This enables clients who are unable to pay or pay a reduced amount to continue to receive meals.”
All donations are welcome and appreciated. Many organizations have supported the program through various donations.
Memorial donations after someone passes away also are appreciated.
To make a donation, call Chrisco at 636-432-1870.