Posted: April 26, 2017 at 2:03 pm

By Shannon Cunningham, LaDonna Adams and Bobby Surella

When I entered the trailer of a meal recipient on Willowdale Road, directly across from Milan Puskar Stadium, an elderly woman with white hair moved across the room as quickly as one could on a walker.

She looked about 75 to me. Meals on Wheels driver Dan Lee introduced me as a student journalist who was along for the day for a story about the program. We spoke for a brief time before saying farewell. As we headed back to the car Dan turned to me and let out a simple, “She’s 91.”

My day as a Morgantown Meals on Wheels driver had begun at 9:30 a.m. on a recent Friday. When I walked into the small area where the drivers wait for their meal cases to be handed to them, I was greeted by President Eleanor Grubbs-Paul. Sitting amidst a freshly made coffee pot and a plate of cookies, she assured me that one of the drivers would be willing to take me along with them on their route for the day.

 

 

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The first driver to enter the office was a quite elderly man dressed in a raincoat and cap. He was spared from taking me along as he had his wife and two large dogs traveling with him in his small sedan. We sat in the small waiting area adjacent to the kitchen waiting for the next victim of our ambush, Dan Lee, whose facial expression when confronted with the idea of bringing yet another student journalist on his route told me I needed to pony something up myself.

Without thinking or any prior knowledge of the length of the route, I blurted out that we could use my car for the deliveries in order to appease his misgivings. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, and by 10 a.m. we hit University Avenue en route to Bakers Ridge Road with me behind the wheel of my black Infiniti G35x with bright gold New Jersey plates.

Our first stop was by far the most remote. We traveled for nearly ten minutes down Bakers Ridge Road until we came to a small, dilapidated trailer at the top of a sharply inclined driveway.

Dan explained to me that this was one of his “no shows,” meaning a meal recipient who prefers their meal be left in a bag which they leave outside their door rather than be disturbed. When Dan told me about one of the recipients who requested that his food be left outside his door as well as that the doorbell be rang, we shared a thick sprout of laughter over the idea.

As we drove, Dan and I came to know each other a bit better. Now 60 years of age, he lives in Morgantown with his wife Jeanette with whom he attended Morgantown High School. Together they own part of the Clubhouse Grill and have a grown daughter. One of the cooks at the Meals on Wheels distribution center, named Joe, is one of the cooks employed at the Clubhouse Grill. Dan explained to me how he got turned on to driving for Meals on Wheels after a neighbor suggested he give it a try.

And now we came to Unity Manor, by far home to the most conversational of souls on our trip. We stepped inside to briefly speak with almost all of the five residents we brought meals to here, with Dan kindly explaining to each one my presence as a student journalist. One woman made a friendly complaint that someone had gone “way overboard” on the amount of thyme used to season the previous days’ chicken. Dan assured her he would relay the message as I held back a burst of laughter.

By the time we came to our last stop on Riverside Road, I came to the important realization that my thinking in regards to the Morgantown MOW program had been significantly biased. From the start of our trip I expected us to being traveling essentially from trailers to senior homes and other forms of, for lack of a better word, generally sub-par living conditions.

As I looked at the almost exclusively top notch real-estate along Riverside Rd., which includes the WVU President’s House now inhabited by Mr. E. Gordon Gee, it dawned on me that the area in which people lived realistically had no bearing on their physical ability to obtain food. What we were actually doing was providing these people with meals which they required in order to sustain themselves.

This was the purest form of people helping people, while expecting nothing in return, that I have possibly ever witnessed and almost certainly been a participant in. This lead me to the most important takeaway I could find, which was that when you step back and think about all the Meals on Wheels centers and all the Dan Lees around the country waking up and delivering food to those who need it most, you can’t help but think we could use just about as many of them as we can possibly get.