By Mary Petersen, Special to The Pilot – Sunday, August 22, 2010

Many have heard of the organization Meals on Wheels and are aware that its volunteers deliver meals to individuals that are at home, in need, and for various reasons are not able to provide a meal for themselves.


However, what readers are probably not aware of is the details that help this organization succeed is a task that most of us take for granted — preparing a meal. And many in Moore County are not aware of the silent role Penick Village has played for decades in ensuring that this program is a continued success for the Sandhills area. 


Since 1974, Penick Village has supported Meals on Wheels of the Sandhills by providing office space and meals directly from its kitchen for volunteers to pick up and deliver each week. All the meals are prepared by Penick Village in their kitchen and given to Meals on Wheels for the cost of food only. Labor, containers and other cost factors are part of Penick Village’s contribution to this program.


Meals on Wheels of the Sandhills is the sole provider of this type of meal delivery service for the towns of Aberdeen, Pinebluff, Pinehurst and Southern Pines. Individuals using this service are encouraged to pay for their meals; however, more than 50 percent of the recipients are unable to pay. 


Without government funding, Meals on Wheels of the Sandhills must rely on the local community to continue to financially support this much-needed service and make up the difference for those that are unable to pay for the service. On average, 120 volunteers deliver 100 meals each weekday throughout the year, including holidays. They provide meals not just for the elderly but for anyone that is in need of this service. There is not a requirement such as age or their financial ability to pay to receive a meal.


Overall, the real success of this program is through the volunteers. Around 11 a.m. each morning, volunteers begin pulling up in their cars to the South Building at Penick Village, where they receive a delivery route sheet and allotment of meals. The entire process takes anywhere from one to two hours per volunteer, but the many lives they impact every day is amazing.


“The volunteers are just invaluable,” says Rebecca Listrom, executive director of the program. “They not only deliver the meals but also get to know the people they are delivering them to and keep an eye out on each individual’s personal situation as well.”

Listrom says there are many touching stories.


“One in particular that touched my heart is of a man with Alzheimer’s who lived next door to his daughter. She worked a lot and needed us to provide meals to him two days a week. The volunteer that normally delivers meals to this gentleman noticed him becoming more and more withdrawn. Then one day, the volunteer came into the house and saw him staring blankly at the TV with a sad look on his face. The volunteer sensed the man just needed a hug and told him that he was going to give him a hug. The gentleman did not reply, so the volunteer simply bent over and gave him a hug. He hugged him for about 20 minutes, until the gentleman finally hugged him back. And when he did, tears slowly rolled down the gentleman’s face as he hugged the volunteer. That’s the intangible part of this program that is so invaluable, the human element of compassion and kindness that makes this program more than just delivering meals but a ministry so to speak.”


Part of the human element of this program is that each meal recipient receives a greeting card on their birthday as well as a small gift at Christmastime. 


“In addition to Penick Village’s support, each year we receive Christmas gifts from the Penick Village staff that they bring to their annual staff Christmas party,” says Listrom. “Our relationship with Penick Village is a great example of how one organization can partner with another to provide community outreach and truly make a difference in many lives.”


Meals on Wheels of the Sandhills is a nonprofit, charitable, tax-exempt 501c(3) organization.


Those interested in volunteering or donating funds to Meals on Wheels of the Sandhills should contact Listrom at (910) 692-0384.


Mary Petersen is the community relations and development director at Penick Village.