Every Wednesday they go to church, not to worship in the traditional sense, but to show their church’s love to the greater community.
For two years, this small band of volunteers at Presbyterian Church of Seffner has headed to the kitchen in the fellowship hall to prepare spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, fish or whatever else is on the menu du jour for shut-ins in the community.
It is one of 18 churches in the greater Brandon area that has taken on the task of feeding those who might not otherwise get a hot meal, or even see another living soul for the entire day.
This week, Meals on Wheels celebrated its super stars during the annual awards luncheon at Bell Shoals Baptist Church, regaling the many ways they help keep the program going.
Elaine Christopher, with First United Methodist Church of Brandon, was named volunteer of the year.
“We have only had this organization for 37 years and Elaine has been a Meals on Wheels volunteer for 36 years,” said Earlene Combs, past president and corresponding secretary for the organization. “Not many hang in with something this time consuming for that long. She organizes all parts of food preparation and the actual serving of the food. She buys food, cooks it and gets volunteers to help.”
Three others were also nominated. Mary Hink, with St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Brandon was nominated for his willingness to help in whatever position is empty, Combs said. Jenneil Patrick, with First United Methodist Church of Seffner is constantly mapping driving routes and helping shop for and deliver food. And Pete Green, with First Baptist Church of Dover, helps keep Meals on Wheels computer records, does a lot of food preparation and even helps deliver.
Many others were recognized for their years of service.
While there are so many volunteers devoted to the program, more churches are needed to fill in the gaps, said Meals on Wheels President Jim McNeil.
“There tends to always be a waiting list for people seeking out this service,” McNeil said.
“We are in desperate need. We are especially trying to get churches involved in Riverview and FishHawk. That is where we really need people,” McNeil said. “People are on a waiting list and we’ve had to turn them down.”
For those who do participate, it’s a time to not only do outreach in the community, but to just get together and enjoy each other’s company.
“Today, the banana wafers are crunched up in the pudding so all they have to do is slip it down,” said volunteer Janet Brandt, as she dished pudding into small Styrofoam cups at the Seffner church.
“I go to this church and I hang out here on Wednesdays with my pals and have a good time,” Brandt said.
“My husband passed and I had some free time and this is something I can do, so I do it,” said kitchen supervisor Anne Wheeler.
Wheeler coordinates the meals for her group each week. This week it was fish with red potatoes and cole slaw, a roll and dessert or tuna linguine primavera with salad, a roll and banana pudding.
Jean Barfield is the volumizer. Having started cooking for the Brandon Elks years back, she has learned how to stretch recipes to feed the masses. She does this gig out of devotion, she said.
“This is the church I got married in 53 years ago. It’s my church and my community,” Barfield said.
“If you can’t give back to the community, what good are you?,” said volunteer Dottie Strickler. “We’re unselfish, caring women that have time to give back.
“We may be the only people they see all day and we want them treated with respect,” Strickler said, speaking of delivering the meals to those who have no transportation and can no longer cook for themselves. “People are very appreciative.”
To learn more, contact McNeil at (813) 716-4399.