The words were familiar, repeated every weekday in communities across the country. The uniform of the Sailor who said them, however, was a pleasant surprise to Indian Head resident Celia Brooks.
“Meals on Wheels!” announced Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Adam Buchanan, a Sailor assigned to the galley at nearby Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head. Brooks smiled and thanked Buchanan, not only for the meal, but “for serving our country.”
The meal was one of approximately 500 delivered by NSF Indian Head Sailors since they started participating in the Meals on Wheels program more than a year ago. In the meantime, the participating Sailors have gained an in-depth understanding of the homebound residents in community they serve- their health concerns, family situations, food allergies, neighborhood histories. While it is not always easy work, the Sailors know they are helping meet a critical need in the community.
It all started with an inspirational words from Indian Head resident and Vietnam veteran Lewis Knight. Knight, a retired Airman, is no stranger to NSF Indian Head. In a 2011 Veterans Day speech, he encouraged service members to put their military discipline to work for the community.
Chief Culinary Specialist Rodney Kayes, the installation’s galley officer, took those words to heart. Kayes and several other Sailors assigned to Indian Head decided to take a page from Knight’s book and volunteer at least once a month for Meals on Wheels.
“We met Chief Master Sergeant Lewis Knight at the Veterans day memorial at Indian Head where he was the guest speaker,” said Kayes. “In conversation he mentioned that he was involved in a program that always needs volunteers and he got us started.”
Kayes credits his Sailors-Buchanan, along with Culinary Specialist 1st Class Corey Mills and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Brandon Miller-for doing the bulk of the work. “They’re the ones who do most of it,” said Kayes. “They make it happen.”
Kayes added that Master at Arms 1st Class Sarah Wood and Yeoman 2nd Class David Parker have also pitched in on occasion, as their work schedules allow.
“We meet a delivery person at the senior center in Indian Head to sign for the meals at 0945 and are on the road by 10 a.m.,” said Kayes. “The most difficult part is remembering where everyone lives.”
The experience of getting out in local neighborhoods keeps the participating Sailors on their toes. Buchanan and Kayes laughed as they recall a feisty Chihuahua that chased one Sailor, who shall remain nameless, off of an elderly woman’s porch.
Another encounter with a much larger canine was less humorous.
“I got bit by a pit bull,” said Buchanan, who managed to smile as he recalled a minor bite on the hand he got from a neighborhood dog during a delivery.
But getting lost and dealing with Fido is not the most challenging part of the work. While many meal recipients appear to enjoy a solid family support network, it is sometimes evident that others do not. Some recipients pass away or are moved to nursing care; others seem to be more or less alone in an impoverished life.
“It’s tough,” said Kayes. “It’s humbling.”
Still, the good feelings far outweigh the sadder experiences.
“The satisfaction comes from knowing that we are assisting the people that are truly in need giving back to those who helped build this community,” said Kayes.
As Buchanan and Keyes arrived to deliver a meal to Helen Taylor, her caretaker-daughter was leaving for work. Taylor’s son-in-law, Leonard Thompson, explained how Meals on Wheels helps his family continue to be productive citizens.
“It makes it easy on my wife because my wife works,” he said.
“She doesn’t have to worry about preparing a meal for [Taylor]. It’s a great help.”
Knight could not be more proud of the way the Sailors from NSF Indian Head stepped up to meet his challenge, calling the effort “fantastic.” Knight, who is engaged in several charitable community activities, added that the same Sailors did a great job collecting 197 food baskets for needy families during the holidays. “They were awesome.”