Meals on Wheels

Howard Mitchell, left, a Meals on Wheels employee, delivers hot and cold meals to Phillip Douglas, site coordinator of the new Meals on Wheels site at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Towson Aug. 15. (Staff photo by Brian Krista / September 2, 2014)

At 68, Phillip Douglas isn't that much younger than the people he serves.

The Owings Mills resident has spent all of his 18 years with Meals on Wheels running distribution in the Towson area. Despite being old enough to retire, he's actually eight years younger than the average Meals on Wheels volunteer, and only nine years younger than the average client.

"I intend to do this until I'm at least 84," Douglas said.

In June, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland opened its new Towson distribution hub in the basement of St. Thomas Episcopal Church at 1108 Providence Road. The hope of organization leaders is that they have a new long-term home on par with Towson Presbyterian Church, which housed Meals on Wheels for 41 years. Shifting priorities led Towson Presbyterian to ask them to leave.

In recent years, the Towson distribution was run out of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Parkville until the church's congregation dwindled to the point where the diocese closed the church. They then moved to the Riderwood Building on Kenilworth Drive, where they were until the space at St. Thomas became available.

Ellen Falk, the Towson center's director of volunteer services and a congregation member at St. Thomas, connected the two, Douglas said.

The Towson distribution hub has 75 volunteers and serves roughly 66 clients of all backgrounds between Mays Chapel and Northern Parkway from north to south and between Falls and Harford roads from east to west, Douglas said. The Towson hub's eight routes each serve eight to 10 clients.

"Generally, the average age is probably late 70s or early 80s," Douglas said. "We try to turn nobody away."

His volunteers are from all walks of life, too.

"Towson's a very generous area. A lot of my volunteers, I have doctors, lawyers, nurses," Douglas said. "I have a driver right now who's delivering to people who are her friends or her friends' parents."

Lutherville resident Patrick Keehan has been delivering for Meals on Wheels for seven years. The retired corporate lawyer said he gets plenty back from the work.

"Just seeing the enjoyment from the people, the gratitude from the people — you get immediate feedback, and almost all of them are very nice," Keehan said.

Beyond a warm meal, volunteers also provide crucial human contact to seniors who could otherwise be isolated. And many times, Douglas said, that's the primary concern for family members.

"The family's not concerned about feeding them," Douglas said. "They're concerned about someone checking up on mom and dad."

Last year, the nonprofit cut holiday service, though spokeswoman Dana Santure said volunteers will deliver frozen meals to clients who need the food for the holidays. All meals are prepared at Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland's central kitchen in Baltimore. Clients are charged a sliding fee based on their income and expenses.

Each route is run by a driver and a visitor. The visitor is the one to deliver the warm meal and spend five or so minutes with the client, more if they require special assistance. 

"They'll tell you little secrets," Douglas said. "I've had a lady that was in the '36 Olympics in Germany."

And if the visitor discovers things that aren't supposed to be there, "We can report that to social services," Douglas said. He added that Meals on Wheels has its own social services group that can assist clients.

"We go a little bit overboard sometimes, but it pays off in the long run," he said of the holistic approach. "[Relatives] appreciate what these volunteers do, and what Meals on Wheels has done for their family. Even though we ask the volunteers 'don't get too attached,' it's an impossibility."

And now, St. Thomas Episcopal is family for Meals on Wheels.

"Every place I've been, I've liked," Douglas said. "It's just a family. No matter where we've gone in Towson, we've been welcomed. We appreciate everything they've done for us."