Lawns mowed, children mannered. Houses shaded by magnolia, dogwood and pear trees. That’s North Raleigh, except for its hidden pockets of hunger. Just around the corner from Hunting Ridge, just on the other side of Millbrook. Just beyond, well, anywhere.
I saw these pockets of need as I tagged along for two days with Joanne Thompson and her Meals on Wheels deliveries. Thompson delivers lunch to seven, sometimes, eight people, and for some, it’s their only meal of the day. It was chicken on my last tag-along, meat on this one. Potatoes, green beans, bread, Jell-O or an orange – all safely stored in a cooler, all free for those in need. Any need. Those living in a bed, those living in fear or those who live too far from a grocery and have no way to get there.
Thompson, a volunteer for Meals on Wheels for two years now, delivers the meals with a smile and a “How are you?,” which for many is the only voice they will hear that day.
“I’ve had almost the same people for two years now, as long as I’ve been doing this,” Thompson says. She knocks on a door in a complex of weathered apartments and it opens. A woman’s hand reaches out for her lunch.
I scan the rest of the buildings. They’re just like I saw the first time. Fronted with knockout roses and white petunias, as well-tended as, hopefully, the lonely souls living inside.
“If they don’t open the door for the Meals-On-Wheels driver,” Thompson explains as we walk back to the car, “then I call the main office and report it. There’s an emergency number.
“And until we alleviate this root evil,” she continues, “there will always be work for the church.”
At least the church Joanne Thompson attends: Greystone Baptist on Leadmine, where she also teaches a class. “My dad,” she says, “delivered Meals-on-Wheels ’til he was 94. Then he quit because he was scared he’d slip on the ice.”
Thompson picks up her deliveries at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church on Falls of the Neuse and is through in an hour and a 1/2.
Supervising the distribution is Gary Ingalls, a former math teacher. “I just want to help people,” Ingalls says with the conviction of a survivor. A survivor of pancreatic cancer who modestly nods as if in prayer, “I just want to give back to society.”
Hospitals will refer a patient, upon discharge, to the program that began nationally in Philadelphia; Columbus, Ohio; and Rochester, N.Y., and is now in Raleigh. Meals are also delivered throughout Wake County. Want to volunteer for Meals on Wheels? Call 919-833-1749 and speak with Viki Baker or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mariann Susann is a North Raleigh resident who teaches at Upward Bound, a federal program for college-bound students, and squeezes in as many Durham Bulls baseball games as she can.