Jean O’Connor-Snyder intern Oquendo Bernard captures how small-town volunteer programs serve their community and extend a helping hand even during the most challenging times.
The Elba Church of Christ, in partnership with the Christian Mission Center, has kept hot meals going out to citizens in Elba and surrounding communities for more than ten years.
The hot meal delivery program is for residents who are elderly or not able to afford or prepare home-cooked meals for themselves.
What started as a small program with only 80 meals a week blossomed into something much greater. The program is now able to provide over 125 meals three times each week. This program is funded mainly through donations from the church and community members who have a passion for helping others.
Residents receive a variety of meals over the three-day period that includes dessert and additional vegetables. Each family gets at least two hot meals each day deliveries are made. The meals normally contain rice and chicken, chili mac, chicken alfredo, or something to celebrate the season. For example, turkey and dressing is included during Thanksgiving deliveries.
The meals are prepared by the Christian Mission Center and picked up by Elba Church of Christ in the church van and delivered on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to the residents.
Rae Walker, managing director of the program, started working as a volunteer for two months before being promoted. She is one of approximately eight volunteers who show up every week to help deliver the hot meals timely and efficiently.
One of the issues that the program faces is a lack of sufficient volunteers.
“When I started in January, there were at least three volunteers who aren’t there now,” she said. Many of the volunteers who currently work with the program are members of the church with other job descriptions but continue to give some of their time toward the cause.
Walker explained that more volunteers would will help immensely by making the delivery time faster as one person is able to drive and another deliver the meal instead of one person performing both roles. However, Rae said she believes that as time passes it will get easier and better and people will see the vision and join the cause.
Carmen Serrano, a resident and member of the church in Elba who has a hearing impairment, shows her love through sign language and delivering hot meals. She said the work provides her with a sense of accomplishment and delight.
“I like to help the people, and it keeps me occupied,” Serrano said. She explained that she has been helping with the program for five years and started out simply because Pastor Phillip Box, current pastor of Elba Church of Christ, asked her.
Serrano said she believes that helping the people is helping God.
As director of the program, Walker dedicates her time to the cause as any volunteer would. She has been in a similar situation in her life where she was not able to enjoy a hot home cooked meal.
“I know what it is like to not have a hot meal for weeks at a time,” Walker explained. For her, the experience is amazing because it is not only about delivering hot meals but also interacting with the residents if only during those three times for the week.
She said that it is charming to see the bright smiles on the faces of the residents and have a short conversation. For many, the volunteers are the only form of interaction with people because some are either shut in or have a form of disability.
“There is a lady in Morrow Village who is blind. She may not can see you but to hear the happiness in her voice makes me happy, and it’s experiences like that make it amazing for me,” Walker said.
The volunteers are pleased with the program, but the residents are too. Melissa Wood is one of the recipients of the hot meals at Morrow Village. She looks forward to the honking of the horn from the church bus every day that the meals are delivered.
“It’s very helpful. I got six kids, so it’s very, very helpful,” she said. She added that she really appreciates the work of the church and loves her delivery driver, Carmen Serrano.
Oquendo Bernard is a junior at Auburn University pursuing a double major in International Studies and Spanish. He is an international student athlete from Jamaica who competes in 110m hurdles on Auburn’s track team.