CELEBRITY REFLECTION: MARIETTE HARTLEY

Recently I had the opportunity to work on the show Good Foods, Goods Deeds, and it was one of the most remarkable and heartening experiences I’ve ever had.  Like a lot of people, I’d heard of Meals On Wheels, but what I didn’t appreciate was the breadth of the organization.  I had the opportunity to experience it firsthand at the Oceola Council for Aging in Kissimmee, Florida.

These people are walking miracles. The compassion, the dedication, and the generosity is astonishing.  I got to work with Kathy, the chef who ran the massive kitchen.  Kathy was a combination of cheerleader, four-star general, and best friend, and she’s been working with the Council for Aging for 23 years, having started volunteering when she was just 13. This is exactly the kind of person that makes this organization so monumental, and something that, as a society, we should not only be proud of, but do everything in our power to help.

Kathy told me that they feed 1500 people a day.  No time to waste, I had to get busy—there was a lot of carrots to chop! Although they have specific guidelines they follow, what I found truly astounding was that they also work very hard to keep it personal, to make sure that the meals are not only balanced and nutritious, but also that they appeal to the seniors they serve.  For a lot of people, this is going to be the only meal they’ll get in a day.

With a kitchen operation this massive, when there’s trouble, the trouble is also massive.  When we were preparing the meals for delivery, the big sealing machine suddenly stopped working.  Without a hiccup Kathy darted off and got her toolkit.  When there’s a problem everyone pitches in, and with the same cheerfulness, commitment, and passion that they bring to everything they do.  When the need arises they are not just chefs but mechanics.  These people deserve a medal.

Meeting the people we were cooking for was a tremendously moving experience.  Wilda, the woman who ran the Council for Aging, drove me around to deliver the food to what she called her ‘beautiful people.’  On one stop I met a sweet, sweet lady named Ann. When we arrived she was in a panic—she was missing her dog, Boo Boo. The meal had to wait while Wilda and I searched for Boo Boo, and luckily rescued her just as she was heading out onto a busy road.  That’s what takes Meals On Wheel beyond mere food delivery.

What an amazing day.  Carrot chopper, kitchen machine mechanic, dog rescuer.  The scope of the work these volunteers do is breathtaking.  And what they do for people, and for the community, is staggering.  It has a spirit that you don’t often see any more these days: a spirit of generosity, of love, and of a big close-knit family.  To find out what you can do to be a part of it, please go to www.mowaa.org.  Your life, and the lives of many, many others, will never be the same.

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