Mary Carol Sowar is the coordinator for Deupree Meals On Wheels Route 8. She's been a volunteer route coordinator with Episcopal Retirement Services' (ERS) meal delivery safety net service for 15 years.
For her, volunteering isn't a duty, or simply a service that she provides. It's both a calling and an affirmation of the goodness that can exist in the world.
"My most memorable Meals On Wheels delivery was my very first day on Route 8," she recounted.
"We were delivering to an elderly couple in the Oakley area and we walked in, and they were so loving with each other. They were so kind and caring, and interested in me being the newbie on the route," Sowar said. "I walked out of the front door and just started crying, because it hit me so emotionally."
Sowar calls her roster of 11 weekly meal delivery volunteers her "angels." Her group meets every Thursday to bring meals to the approximately 10 to 15 seniors that are on their route on Cincinnati's East Side.
When friends work together, they can make a big difference in the world.
Many of the volunteers on Sowar's route were her friends, before they began serving together. She recruited them.
"Five years ago," remembered volunteer Laura Kitzmiller, "my dear friend Mary Carol asked me to join the group."
Sowar "makes everything fun and she's such a wonderful person," Kitzmiller said. "I could not say no to her."
"One of the reasons why I love Meals On Wheels is not only serving the community and doing something great for people in need, but I get to be with my girlfriends," said Tracy Kruszynski, one of the volunteers who has been delivering on Route 8 since its inception. "Nothing's better than that."
"I started 18 years ago," she recalled. "I was sitting at church and Deupree was asking for volunteers. A friend of mine behind me was reading the same thing, and I leaned into her and said, 'I want to do this.' She leaned into me and said, 'We're gonna do this.'"
"We're doing much more than bringing food," said Route 8 delivery volunteer Jeralyn Barrett. "We're bringing sunshine to someone who's maybe alone all day. We're bringing happiness and joy and leaving them with a smile for the rest of the day."
"The Lord said to go and feed the hungry," Barrett said. "Every day, when I leave, I think, 'I'm feeding the hungry.'"
More than a meal.
Each day, volunteer Deupree Meals On Wheels drivers like Sowar's "angels" deliver over 400 meals to seniors on Cincinnati's East Side.
In 2017, in partnership with the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, Deupree Meals On Wheels delivered more than 110,000 meals and, for the third consecutive year, smashed its own annual delivery record. The person-centered service accounts for each client's unique dietary requirements, wellness goals and tastes.
"We cater to their preferences," said program supervisor Sue Susskind. "We prepare personalized meals for many of our clients. They have a choice of receiving either hot or frozen meals."
There are low-glucose meals, low-sodium meals, high-calorie meals for seniors who need to maintain weight and low-calorie meals for those who are watching their weight. The service can even customize meals to meet requirements for medical treatments that a senior might be undergoing.
Non-perishable meals are also prepared and delivered, so that recipients will have ready-to-eat food on hand in case of community emergencies, or for those days (holidays, for example) on which the service doesn't operate.
But Deupree Meals On Wheels volunteers do much more than drop off food to elders who are aging in place.
Many of the Tristate's seniors live alone, so Deupree's meal delivery volunteers and staff provide a critical link to the outside world for people who might not otherwise have regular contact with others. That's not only important for helping seniors to feel connected; it's important for ensuring their safety.
If a recipient doesn't answer the door, drivers are trained to immediately notify that senior's emergency contacts and, if warranted, to contact emergency responders.
"Our volunteers go above and beyond to ensure the overall well-being of those we serve," Susskind added.
We're looking for passionate, person-centered volunteers like you!
Do you feel called to serve the community? We're always looking for volunteer meal preparers and delivery drivers — on Route 8 and on the rest of our delivery routes!
Click here today to learn more about volunteering with Deupree Meals On Wheels.