Volunteers make the wheels go round at ‘Meals on Wheels’
By Elizabeth Perry
For almost 50 years, Christ Community Church has been the home base for the McKees Rocks Meals on Wheels program which provides meals to infirm people who have trouble getting outside.
Terri Bruder, director of the program, operates out of the basement of the Chartiers Avenue church.
“The community knows our church well,” Bruder said.
In addition to hosting the Meals on Wheels program, Christ Community Church also has a free dinner on the last Saturday of the month from 5 to 6 p.m., and a thrift store on the second Saturday of the month from March to December.
Jeanne Durr, 77, has been with Meals on Wheels since 2008. She does kitchen work some days and drives the prepared food out to people.
“When our pastor left, we were down to nine clients–she rebuilt this all up,” Durr said.
Bruder said they try to have two volunteers go out together at a time–one to drive and one to run. Ann Pollard has been the chef preparing all of the meals for the past 10 years. She arrives at 6:30 a.m. and prepares food until the team comes together to plate them up for delivery. Pollard is the only paid member of the otherwise all-volunteer team; she and Bruder both have food certification.
“Thank God for these volunteers, because I ain’t nothing but a cook,” Pollard said.
Elaine Yakich immediately piped up; “If you’re not here, it doesn’t happen.”
They deliver food Monday through Friday. On a Thursday morning, the volunteers gathered around a silver prep table laden with metal dishes filled with stuffed green peppers, bright orange cooked carrot coins and mashed potatoes. Despite Pollard’s humility, all the food smells delicious. The volunteers said a prayer before they put the steaming food into segmented, cardboard trays which they then sealed in plastic. This is how they prepped everything to be brought to clients.
They run six routes; one and two in the Bottoms and McKees Rocks, three covers Kennedy Township, four delivers to West Park, five includes Sheraden, Eliott, Crafton and Ingram and six is Robinson. (At one time, route five used to be separated, but they’ve since been combined.)
Clients come to the program through hospital or church references, and though the group is now independent from Lutheran Services, if someone applies through Meals on Wheels for service, they can be referred that way, too.
“It’s a much-needed program. We have a lot of folks who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Sandy Clapperton, who has been a volunteer since 2008.
Beverly Bayer, looking sharp in a gold lame outfit she bought at the thrift store the church hosts, has been with the program since the very beginning. There used to be about 125 clients. Currently, Bruder said there are 30 people on the books now who receive meals through the program, and they are currently servicing 28 of them—sometimes recipients go into the hospital or are otherwise away from home.
“These girls work hard down here every day with Miss Annie,” Bayer said. There are male volunteers, too.
“We have a couple husband and wife teams,” Bruder said.
Elaine Jones, the treasurer, started with the organization two years ago as a temporary “fill-in” but then stayed. Jones said her favorite part is visiting the clients and making sure they’re OK.
“We’ve called the Department of Aging before where we realized people were in more need than we could provide,” Bruder said.
Jan Kaufer said she once during a delivery heard a client who lived in an apartment complex crying for help.
“I couldn’t get in until I saw another resident,” Kaufer said.
She immediately called 911 and the woman was taken away in an ambulance. Eventually, she was released from the hospital and remained a client for several more years.
“A lot of these people are housebound,” Clapperton said.
Bruder sets up all the menus and recently connected with 412 Food Rescue, which sources surplus food that would otherwise be wasted for those experiencing food insecurity.
Bayer said she was once asked where she saw God in the world and immediately thought of a woman she delivered food to who always greeted volunteers with an enormous smile. Both the client’s legs had been amputated and she depended on the meals.
“She had this big smile. That’s where I see God,” Bayer said.