Cooks needed for 42-year-old program

Matthew Lane • Jun 6, 2014 at 2:15 PM

KINGSPORT — Meals on Wheels of Kingsport has as one of its mottoes, "Neighbors helping Neighbors."

Now, the 42-year-old organization is in need of help.

"Our concern is we're losing volunteers," said Janyce Dudney, who serves on the Meals on Wheels board of directors. "I'm getting in a crunch right now, I've got some long-term cook teams who are aging out and can't do it any more. And it's getting more and more difficult to get volunteers to come in and cook or deliver routes."

Meals on Wheels began in Kingsport in 1972 to cook and deliver meals to impaired residents twice a week. Now, more than 40 years later, Meals on Wheels operates kitchens out of two local churches (Waverly Road Presbyterian and First Presbyterian) providing more than 200 meals to people, five days a week year round, including holidays.

The organization relies heavily on volunteers with the only paid staffer being someone at the United Way who handles the phone calls for meals and information. Ninety-percent of the organization's budget literally goes to food purchases.

Last year, volunteers prepared and delivered more than 61,000 meals to isolated, incapacitated senior citizens or other homebound disabled people.

Dudney, who is the head cook at Waverly Road Presbyterian, said Meals on Wheels needs 30 to 35 volunteers each day to cook and deliver the meals. Right now, the organization needs cooks.

"We have four open cook days. If you put four people on a team, then we need 16 volunteers," Dudney said. "Over the last year I've lost 10 teams. Some are older, people who have moved away or left for a variety of reasons. But most have been due to age."

Some of the cooks are in their 80s and "probably older than a lot of their recipients," Dudney said.

Cook teams are typically two to four people with a time commitment of two to three hours, one day a month. The cook teams are made up of friends and family, local churches, and employees from Eastman Chemical Co. and the city of Kingsport.

"You can have as simple a meal as you like or as difficult, and every cook team can plan their own menu," Dudney said. Recently the meals have varied from sloppy joes and chips to chicken casserole and green beans.

For Dudney, Meals on Wheels has truly been a family affair. Her mother, Jeannette Ralston has cooked for the organization for 40 years come September; last week her daughter Rachel helped in the kitchen and her grandmother cooked there as well.

"It's fun," Ralston said. "You get to see people you haven't seen in a while."

Rachel remembers when she was younger coming to the church to help her mother in the kitchen, especially during the summer months.

"When I got out of school it was a treat," she said. "When I was younger I got to work the dishwasher, a big industrial-sized one with a sprayer. It was like playing in the water."

Mary Ann Smith, who has been delivering meals for more than 40 years, said Meals on Wheels has been a joy and blessing for her.

"It's a good volunteer job. I've made so many wonderful friends and they are so appreciative," Smith said. "I don't think I have one who doesn't say "God bless you."

Dudney's requirements for being a cook include having a passion for feeding people, having two to three hours a month to volunteer and a way to the kitchen. The least importance requirement is a bare bones ability to cook, she said.

"I think people are intimidated when they hear they have to cook for 80-some people in an hour and a half. But I encourage people to come in and see what happens or how it works," Dudney said. "It does take a little thought process, but it's not hard."

For information about becoming a Meals on Wheels, volunteer contact Dudney at 288-8327 or send an email to jrdudney@yahoo.com.

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