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Meals on Wheels hits milestone
Group has no waiting list in Gainesville-Hall County area
Patricia Ingram, left, and Jaime Chapman drop off hot lunch for a resident of Church Street Manor on Thursday in Gainesville. - photo by FRANK REDDY

Thursdays are great days for Jaime Chapman.

There’s Special Olympics bowling in the evening and putt-putt in the afternoons.

But, the most dynamic part of the day starts in the morning at the corner of Prior Street and Jesse Jewell Parkway. He and “Mrs. P” — Patricia Ingram of Gainesville — push a shopping cart filled with hot lunches across the road. Piping “relax music” through his earbuds, the 25-year-old with special needs knocks at the doors of Meals on Wheels recipients at Church Street Manor. Most know the duo by name, but to those Chapman hasn’t yet been introduced he offers a high-five and a stick of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum.

Ingram and Chapman are just two of more than 250 volunteers who deliver meals five days a week to elderly residents in need. Thanks to the selflessness of volunteers and the generosity of donors, the local Meals on Wheels is thriving. In fact, last week the program’s director made a groundbreaking announcement.

“There is officially no one on the waiting list,” said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, the department which houses Meals on Wheels.

Moss said that over the past several years, financial strain and a lack of volunteers has been “like walking a tightrope.” They couldn’t deliver nutritious lunches to everybody who needed food. In fact, there was a time when more than 150 local adults in need were approved to receive Meals on Wheels but couldn’t because of the waiting list.

Times have changed. During her 14 years with the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, Moss said the Meals on Wheels division has never been in better shape than it is today. It’s the first time in nearly two decades that there’s been nobody on the waiting list.

Now, locals approved through Legacy Link — a state and federal funder of the program — can get a hot meal ASAP.

According to Moss, the need will always be constant for funding and volunteers, “but, right now, we’re in great shape.”

In addition to Legacy Link, Meals on Wheels receives private donations from individuals and businesses, as well as local funding from the city of Gainesville and Hall County government.

Moss said those who receive meals are “older adults who are unable to safely prepare a meal for themselves ... these individuals may have an illness or a disability that keeps them from preparing a high-quality meal.”

Last Thursday, Chapman and Ingram delivered meals to three such individuals at the Church Street Manor apartments on Prior Street. Among them: 74-year-old Rhett Conner, who’s been receiving Meals on Wheels for six years.

Conner waved them inside, where Ingram arranged his plastic food tray on the table. She placed in his hands a fresh copy of The Times. Conner said the daily visit from volunteers like Chapman and Ingram is always welcome. Being a recipient of Meals on Wheels is a necessity, he said.

“I mean, hey,” Conner explained, “when you’re a senior like me, you don’t have a choice but tightening your belt. It’s not easy times.”

Conner thanked the duo as they headed out the door. Thrusting out his hand for a handshake, Chapman met him halfway with a high-five.

Ingram said being able to help people like Conner fulfills her desire “to assist those in need.”

“I love the people,” Ingram said. “And I love Meals on Wheels in general, just because it’s a great organization to volunteer with.”

Chapman enjoys helping Ingram with her Meals on Wheels route because he gets to “meet new people and help them. H-E-L-P T-H-E-M.” When people have trouble understanding him, Chapman relies on his spelling skills. He recites his words letter by letter.

“He’s a wonderful speller,” Ingram says.

And, as their morning on Prior Street comes to an end, Ingram and Chapman get into her SUV and head off to play a little putt-putt. Turning up the “relax music” on his iPod Shuffle, Chapman waves as they exit the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, another great Thursday in the works.