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North County Meals On Wheels Celebrates ‘Community Champions’

Pictured from left to right is Adam Dolce, United Way of Northern Chautauqua County Executive Director; Diane Hannum, Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation Executive Director; Sara Marsowicz, Meals on Wheels volunteer; and Deb Pacos, Executive Director of Dunkirk-Fredonia Meals on Wheels. Submitted photo

Dunkirk-Fredonia Meals on Wheels claims it is more than just delivering meals to those who need them – it is also about the human interaction between its clients and drivers.

Recently, many members of the community got a chance to see exactly what they meant.

As part of March for Meals, local officials and administrators were invited to join Meals on Wheels to assist in delivering meals to clients across the region. Among the “Community Champions” who participated were Chautauqua County Executive P.J. Wendel, Sheriff Jim Quattrone, Fredonia DPW Streets Supervisor Scott Marsh, Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation Executive Director Diane Hannum, United Way of Northern Chautauqua County Executive Director Adam Dolce, and Brocton Central School Superintendent Jason Delcamp.

“Everyone that did it raves about Meals on Wheels,” said Deb Pacos, Executive Director of Dunkirk-Fredonia Meals on Wheels. “They see it’s more than just delivering a meal. They meet our clients and they are making a connection with those people.”

Wendel began the March for Meals event in mid-March. Wendel called it “a great experience” and noted that it made him “realize how essential this program is to our county residents.”

Sheriff Quattrone was the next Community Champion to ride along with Meals on Wheels, as driver Mark Emke welcomed the County Sheriff on his route. Pacos noted how shocked the clients were to see the face of the County Sheriff delivering their meals.

“It was great seeing how Mark has built relationships with the many individuals he delivers meals to. It was quite obvious that those receiving the meals thoroughly enjoyed his brief visits as much as Mark did. I was struck by the fact that not only were meals delivered, but this is also a great way to make sure the individuals are not having any life-endangering issues,” Quattrone said.

Marsh was welcomed on a delivery route with Emily Vandette to “see how the Meals on Wheels program works.” Marsh credited the Meals on Wheels staff for their efforts to support the program.

“It’s a great program that a lot of people rely on. It’s nice that our community has this service and the dedicated volunteers and staff to keep it running,” Marsh said.

Delcamp quoted one of his favorite country music stars, Luke Bryan, when referring to his experience with Meals on Wheels. Delcamp referenced the lyrics, “I believe this world ain’t half as bad as it looks, I believe most people are good.”

After Delcamp’s experience riding along with Ed Rusch, Delcamp joked, “I would encourage you to change your name to ‘Caring Wheels with a Side of Meals’.”

Delcamp described how the experience greatly exceeded his expectations.

“I learned that the Meals on Wheels program is not mainly based on passing out meals, but the authentic relationships and kindness that your drivers have for the people they serve. This program in my opinion is about the authentic and caring relationships that have been built between your delivery people and the elderly folks they deliver to. The smiles I saw, the delight of seeing their friend and the encouragement that Ed gives them each week is a memory that will stay with me forever,” Delcamp said.

Delcamp praised Rusch for the connections he built and maintained with his clients on the route.

“People like Ed make this world a better place. Each and every person that we visited today would attest to that. He knows each and every person, their family, their pets and prior professions. He is a person that simply listens. Even if it is for a brief few minutes, the simple gesture makes a positive difference in the lives of others,” Delcamp said.

Hannum had a similar take-away from her experience during March for Meals with volunteer Sara Marsowicz.

“Meals on Wheels delivers not just food, but friendship too,” Hannum said. “Everyone on Sara’s route was happy to see her and she was just as glad to see them.”

The March for Meals event, which concluded at the end of March, made its return this year after a pandemic-imposed hiatus.

“This was a big deal for us, not having done it for three years because of the pandemic,” Pacos said. “It’s so nice to be able to do it again. The clients just love seeing people come to their door. You can’t fake their enthusiasm, that’s for sure.”

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