PHOTOS: Why a morning spent with Meals on Wheels volunteers was 'the most exhilarating thing' ever

This is the second in our new series on senior food insecurity. It’s a topic that is especially important in the greater Memphis area, which has the third highest senior food insecurity rates in the country. High Ground contributor Reginald Johnson spent a morning at the headquarters of MIFA (Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association) as volunteers readied another day of Meals on Wheels deliveries for some of our region's most vulnerable of residents.

Read our first installment in the series, Addressing senior food insecurity is a critical need nationwide, but especially in Memphis, on High Ground News.

I visited MIFA (Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association) headquarters on the morning of Wednesday, March 20, for one of the organization’s March for Meals events, a month-long series that invited community leaders and stakeholders to participate in the Meals on Wheels program. Memphis City Council member Philip Spinosa and Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk Heidi Kuhn were among the volunteers that morning.

"The Meals on Wheels program is filling one of the gaps that our elderly population is facing," says Memphis City Council member Philip Spinosa, center. "You have senior citizens delivering meals to other seniors in their homes. It gives me goosebumps talking to you about it. I love knocking on people's doors and bringing hot food to them."

"Our office is a big proponent of giving back to the community and one of the things that we truly believe in is the Meals on Wheels," says Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk Heidi Kuhn, fourth from left.

MIFA and their team of dedicated volunteers have been providing meals to homebound and/or disabled Mid-South seniors since 1976. Over the years, I remember seeing our local news stations covering stories about MIFA’s Meals On Wheels program.

You know how you have heard about a thing?

And you think you know about a thing…

But you really don’t know about a thing…

Until you become a part of a thing?

Well, that’s what happened to me. Little did I know that I would meet some of the most remarkable and servant-hearted people on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.

"Something near and dear to my heart is to work with the senior population and community," says volunteer Felicia Crayton-Lloyd, left. To her right is volunteer Jennifer Iverson, who says, "I love it and I love all the people."

The altruist spirit of those who volunteer and the staff at MIFA that run this amazing program will give you the feeling that you are missing out on one of Life’s most precious joys.

Rev. Dr. Peggy Jean Craig of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Germantown, waving to the camera as she reports to volunteer: "Over and over again, (recipients) said, 'Bless you, you're such a blessing. God bless you. Have a wonderful day.' And then as I was driving out of one neighborhood, there was a house that had some graffiti written on it with the words John 3:16. I heard it as a reminder of love, that God so loves the whole world – every single neighborhood, every single corner of Memphis."

The place is high-octane; volunteers pull up to the building and an Indy 500-style pit crew comes out and fills their cars with nutritious meals ready for delivery. They are off in what seems only a matter of seconds.

"We get to know our routes somewhat and if somebody is not there we miss them. So we say a little prayer, and they say prayers for you too," says volunteer Jane Sullivan, seen here before a delivery run. "Friendships are born and relationships are made."

It was the most exhilarating thing that I have ever witnessed. You'd think that people are racing to MIFA picking up gold bars. But for them, the cargo in their cars is more precious than silver and gold, for they are on a mission to serve some of the most vulnerable and isolated seniors in our city. You can see it in their eyes and you can hear it in their voices; you can see it in the urgency of their walk. 

A team of volunteers from Memphis Public Libraries.

Thanks to MIFA and the amazing volunteers who opened up to me about their lives and why this work means so much to them. I walked away with a profound sense of gratitude for not only what I witnessed but what I heard.

"The Meals on Wheels program is more than a meal," says Arnetta Stanton Macklin, Chief Engagement and Advocacy Officer for MIFA. She's pictured here in the center of a group of MIFA staff and volunteers. To the left of Arnetta is MIFA Director of Impact & Communications Ellen Whitten, who says, "Not all, but for a number of our clients, the volunteers, or the staff members who deliver their meals, are the only person they see all day. So to break that isolation and to give them a social connection and for them to know that somebody is going to come to check on them that day and is going to bring them a hot meal – it's so important."

I know that one day soon I will share in the kind of joy that all of you talked about. We all need a dose of that in our lives.

Visit MIFA online to learn more about Meals on Wheels and additional programs offered to at-risk populations throughout Shelby County.
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