(Posted May 8, 2023)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Meals-on-Wheels is celebrating its 40th year of delivering meals to homebound residents in Madison County. At the same time, the program is saying thank-you and goodbye to Leah Baird who has been there through it all.
On May 2, LifeCare Alliance, the organization that oversees Meals-on-Wheels in Madison County, paid tribute to Baird who has retired after 40 years with the program, 33 as county coordinator. The tribute was part of the organization’s annual Spirit Awards ceremony which took place at London City Hall.
“The one constant here was Leah Baird, and that’s why (Meals-on-Wheels) has run so well,” said Chuck Gehring, LifeCare Alliance president and CEO.
When Madison County Hospital (now Madison Health) turned over Meals-on-Wheels to LifeCare Alliance in 2003, Baird was there. When the program expanded to include food delivery for clients’ pets and fan delivery to keep clients cool in the summer, Baird was there. Whenever a new volunteer signed up or a client needed help, you guessed it. Baird was there.
Don Hemmelgarn, a Madison County resident, said he sensed Baird’s commitment right away when he signed up as a Meals-on-Wheels volunteer years ago.
“The one thing that was instantaneous was the feeling of loyalty that Leah had for the clients and volunteers,” Hemmelgarn said.
Those character traits shone through in the speech Baird gave at the Spirit Awards. She thanked everyone for their service and for making her four decades with the program memorable and fulfilling.
To the volunteers, she said, “Without all of you, many of our communities’ members would not have the opportunity to enjoy a meal, cool off in the summer with a fan, or even have the opportunity for human interaction on a daily basis.
“One of the greatest joys I have been able to witness in the last four decades is watching so many serve their neighbors, from retirees and local businesses to high school students in the summer. It truly has been an honor to see the amount of care and compassion each volunteer has shown.”
In retirement, Baird, a London resident, is looking forward to spending time with family, going on vacation, and relaxing. She plans to stay involved with the community through volunteer work.
LifeCare Alliance is taking a team approach to filling Baird’s shoes with several departments pitching in and driver Tony Madison serving as the face of the program in Madison County.
Anyone who would like to become a Meals-on-Wheels volunteer can call (614) 437-2957 or send an email to email@example.com. Anyone interested in the services the program provides can call the customer care department at (614) 278-3152. For general information, visit Meals-on-Wheels.
Several individuals and organizations were honored during the Spirit Awards ceremony for their support of the Meals-on-Wheels program.
This year’s Spirit Award, presented in honor of longtime volunteer Donald Dhume, went to Steve and Sandy Craig who joined the program’s volunteer team in Mount Sterling in 2018. They have gone above and beyond in many ways, including serving through the pandemic. Additionally, Steve meets with new volunteers, rides along to help them understand their routes, and introduces them to clients. Last year, Steve and Sandy delivered meals 50 times. So far this year, they have delivered 23 times.
This year’s Corporate Partner Spirit Award went to Jefferson Industries. The West Jefferson company first adopted a Meals-on-Wheels route in 2004 and has been a reliable partner ever since. Last year, their team of employees delivered 24 times and drove over 288 miles.
The Mount Sterling Community Center received the Dining Center Spirit Award. LifeCare Alliance partners with organizations that can provide a place where people can come together for meals. The Mount Sterling Community Center was the first to jump on board once LifeCare was permitted to relaunch its dining centers following the pandemic. The Community Center has served more than 260 meals since signing on in 2022.
As a whole, the volunteers who support Meals-on-Wheels in Madison County delivered 36,483 meals in 2022, 5,490 more meals than in 2021. In the process, they racked up a total of 17,000 miles and 3,600 hours of service.