By June Naylor
Meals on Wheels volunteers — traveling by car or bike — are the link to a nutritious meal for many in need. A side order of conversation? That’s free of charge, too.
Despite pouring rain, and even in a sleet storm, Meals on Wheels volunteer Estelle Miller gets the job done with a smile. A healthy meal delivered to the door with a kind word, a short visit, a feeling that somebody cares whether you’ve eaten today — that’s the sense of security Miller and other volunteers deliver across North Texas to seniors who might otherwise go hungry. Making sure that the homebound and food-insecure elder population get fed on a daily basis is the focus of the nonprofit. The need is so great in North Texas, that two chapters of the agency — reliant upon thousands of volunteers — are necessary: Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County and Roanoke-based Metroport Meals on Wheels, which serves northern Tarrant and southern Denton counties as well as parts of Wise County.
New programs aimed at related issues focus on keeping people healthy at home with nutritional guidance; another is designed to prevent falls and boost physical strength. But central to everything is good food — a meal is defined as hot, freshly prepared food including a protein and two sides, usually with a roll and dessert — and eyes-on concern for a population-in-need that is growing. As Keith Harrison, communications manager of Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County, notes, “Baby boomers are entering the period of life where they need assistance to remain in their homes, posing a challenge for us.” Everyone agrees volunteers are the key to success.
The selflessness of people like Harry Kier helps. Not only does the semiretired electrical engineer deliver meals to homebound seniors in Hurst, he does it with an environmentally friendly panache, via bicycle.
Inspired by a late uncle who lived in Pennsylvania, Kier’s Meals on Wheels volunteerism began about five years ago. “My uncle Bud vowed to keep delivering for Meals on Wheels when he turned 90, and he did that,” Kier says. “It was such an accomplishment that I do this in his honor — though I don’t know if I’ll be doing it on my 90th birthday.”
For more than 40 years Kier, an advocate for energy conservation, has chosen a bicycle for his transport whenever possible. Today, he buzzes around on an electric one, even on his once-weekly (sometimes more frequent) delivery route for MOW of Tarrant County. His dedication is such that he rigged a system of stretch cords to his bike, allowing him to mount coolers for meals that go to 10 homes. He picks up the food at a church in Hurst (it’s prepared at the MOW center in Haltom City) on Friday mornings and sets out. If the weather turns ugly, Kier is still on task but adaptable: “I’m not crazy. If it’s raining, I’ll take my car to deliver the meals.”
Estelle Miller also has never let bad weather keep her from her volunteer work for Metroport Meals on Wheels. In a downpour, she gamely dons her blue poncho to pick up food at Mel’s Place in Boyd — a restaurant preparing and donating the meals — and drives Wednesday-morning deliveries around Boyd, Rhome and Newark. “The most miserable day was last winter. It was drizzly cold. I came to a ranch house with a metal fence, and the gate was frozen. It opened only just enough for me to go through — but not my car. So, I walked a pretty good jaunt up that hill to the house to deliver the meal.” She smiles, “But you know, we don’t get bad weather a lot.”
Miller’s willingness to serve was passed down by her mother, one of the original volunteers for the Metroport chapter, founded in 1980. “Mother and Dad delivered meals for many years, driving a Roanoke route.” In a not unusual turnabout, Miller’s parents became clients in their late years. When Miller retired from teaching, she began delivering and eventually became a route coordinator for Wise County. Her husband, Ronald, volunteers, too, and they pick up extra routes when other volunteers can’t make it. “I don’t like to think of anyone unable to have meals because of finances or because they can’t get up and cook. Some don’t have any visitors except Meals on Wheels volunteers, and this way, someone is checking on them five days a week,” she says.
For Miller and Kier, dedication to helping others is a family legacy. As for many volunteers, the commitment is top of mind no matter what else is on their to-do list, and many go above and beyond. Officials at both Meals on Wheels offices cite volunteers who tote along dog treats, favorite cookies and more on their routes; one Metroport volunteer paid to replace a water heater in a client’s home.
As Miller says, voicing a sentiment shared by other volunteers, the impact of her service is twofold
“You think you’re volunteering to help other people, but really and truly, the blessing and satisfaction that you’re getting back is as important as what you’re giving someone else.”