United Way, Meals on Wheels trying to keep pace with all the needs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 20, 2011

By Shavonne Potts
SALISBURY — Laura Lansford admits she wasn’t doing a very good job of preparing a healthy midday meal for herself.
The 77-year-old, who has some health issues, reached out to Meals on Wheels for help. Meals on Wheels of Rowan County is a nonprofit agency that provides a daily lunch to people who can’t leave their homes.
Lansford pays the full price for a meal, which is $4.05. However, some people are only able to pay half the price, while others are not able to pay at all.
Although volunteer Kevin Boyle had only visited with Lansford a few times before, he said he really learned more about her.
Lansford, who is a seamstress by hobby, was working on a medieval costume during Boyle’s visit. She and her husband, William Jordan, are interested in the era.
When she’s well enough, they travel to various festivals in costume.
Boyle said he was so pleased Lansford shared about her life.
“I’ll be able to serve her better now that I know more about her and why she uses our service,” he said.
Meals on Wheels relies on funding from individuals, civic organizations and the Rowan County United Way.
United Way is in the middle of its annual fundraising campaign. Among other agencies, contributions to the campaign are allocated to Meals on Wheels to pay for meals and administrative expenses.
Boyle also serves on the Meals on Wheels board of directors. He is a part of the Food Lion corporate office team, which includes 20 to 30 Meals on Wheels volunteers.
A single volunteer may deliver a meal to the same person two days a week. Each volunteer has a set route of about 10 homes.
Boyle began delivering meals last October and says that before then, he didn’t know much about Meals on Wheels and the people it helped. A friend invited him to an information session about the agency and he soon began volunteering.
Boyle says the most important thing about delivering the meal is “the human connection that we make with the people.”
Some people, like Lansford, invite volunteers inside for a chat, while others just want to see a smiling face, he said.
“You end up finding out a lot about them, and I just know that what I do through that five minutes I spend with them is really important,” he said.
While visiting with one man, Boyle learned he wanted to be reconnected to his church. He made a few phone calls and arranged for the church to pick up the man, who was homebound, and drive him to services.
“Through involvement, I’ve learned how the United Way works. I know there’s a lot of negative connotation, but every agency is unique,” he said.
Boyle’s family has deep roots in the United Way organization. In 1976, Boyle’s grandfather started a United Way chapter in Connecticut, his home state.
“I just learned that it’s mostly volunteer driven. There is very little overhead and they use the money correctly,” Boyle said.
As a Meals on Wheels volunteer and board member, he sees the impact of the contributions. “You know where the dollars are going,” he said.
To help get out the word, Boyle spoke about his experiences in a video the United Way is featuring on its YouTube channel, rcunitedway1.
Meals on Wheels is one of a number of organizations that count on the United Way to help them help others. “As the economy tightens and the dollars available for charitable giving decrease, the need for those charitable dollars invariably increases,” said Steve Fisher, chairman of this year’s United Way campaign.
All of the United Way agencies are under tremendous pressure as funding sources are drying up while the need continues to expand, he said.
“Whether it is a decrease in the amount of government funding due to cutbacks, decreases in annual fundraisers due to the economy or a dramatic increase in demand for services,” Fisher said.
The United Way Allocations Committee conducts a review of the demand for services, the program of services provided by each agency and the cost of providing those services. Based on that review, it recommends the amount of funding needed to meet the needs of the community.
“We are only at halftime and I’ve never seen a game won at halftime. There’s a lot of work to be done in the second half. The second half will be tougher than the first half,” Fisher said.
This year’s campaign goal is $1.6 million. This week’s campaign total so far is $750,954 or nearly 47 percent of the goal. That’s up from last week’s $724,637 or 45 percent.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.