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Big Wheels Keep on Turning

Big Wheels Keep on Turning

  • "Big Wheels Keep on Turning" originally appeared in the December 2023 food and drink issue of COMO Magazine.
Meals on Wheels Client

Meals on Wheels of Columbia is accelerating through 51 years of providing meals and more to residents who need it most.

What has two legs, four wheels, and has been volunteering to bring hot, homemade food to the doors of Columbians for fifty-one years? It’s Meals on Wheels of Columbia (MOW) and its hundreds of volunteers who show up on the front porches of people who need them. 

Consider some of the other impressive numbers of this Columbia nonprofit. About 130 volunteers run twenty-four routes, averaging 180 meals per day, Monday through Friday. That’s 260 days a year and roughly 50,000 meals. Total volunteer hours stand at about 240 per week. 

What does it take to tackle all that? It requires Executive Director Teri Walden, a handful of staff, an active volunteer board of directors, and many more indivduals to make sure our neighbors receive hot, nutritious meals. 

Melissa Tiefunbrunn Meals On Wheels Woodhaven
Melissa Tiefunbrunn – Meals On Wheels, Woodhaven

Many Hands Make for Light Work

The office of Meals on Wheels is in the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital. That location makes sense since it’s the VA Hospital dietitians and kitchen staff who prepare those thousands of meals packaged, labeled, and loaded by MOW staff and volunteers. 

Among the volunteers who hit the road daily to cover those twenty-four routes are individuals, like two who have delivered meals for a remarkable forty-one and forty-two years. But they’re also traveled by staff and clients of six of MOW’s business partners. Currently, EasterSeals Midwest clients and staff take three routes, Veterans United staff handle two, clients and staff of Woodhaven and Avant each tackle two, while staff of Neighbor’s Bank and Keeping Good Company each cover one route. When MOW needs delivery backup, staff at Boone Central Title, Semco, and Shelter Insurance fill the void. 

Although that represents a significant amount of community involvement, there’s more. Coil Construction, Boyce & Bynum, Williams Keepers, and Hilgedick Farms sponsor the annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. Missouri Employers Mutual is a business partner. The city provides a $50,000 grant to MOW, and last year, the Veterans United Foundation kicked in another $25,000 grant. 

MOW has also hosted its Big Wheels fundraiser annually for more than twenty years. During the five-day event, local businesses order gourmet box lunches for delivery to their offices. In 2023, nineteen businesses stepped up to sponsor the event, and 125 businesses ordered meals. Support also comes from hundreds of individuals and businesses who donate to the organization during CoMo Gives. Walden says MOW is grateful for every cent and volunteer, but there’s always a need for more.

Meals on Wheels Client
Meals on Wheels client

The Need Continues to Grow

Only about 10 percent of MOW clients pay nothing for meals. The other 90 percent pay on a sliding scale, based on their income, making MOW a subsidized meal program rather than a free meal program. 

“We serve people of all incomes in our ‘pay what you can, if you can’ model,” Walden says. “We look at gross monthly incomes to determine if they pay nothing, $1, $1.50, $2, and up. The top price is $5.25 a meal.”

As grocery store prices have risen, so has demand for meals. Walden says they’re serving 66 more clients now than at the same time last year. But MOW isn’t just about delivering meals to those who need them. Volunteers also offer a friendly face, a personal touch, and conversation to many who otherwise don’t have regular connection in their daily lives. 

“Meals on Wheels is a wonderful organization,” Walden says. “We help homebound seniors and individuals with disabilities stay in their homes longer. Our volunteers often develop positive relationships with the clients, helping them break isolation.

“Our volunteers are also the eyes and ears for families as MOW checks in with each delivery and reports if there seems to be an issue with the client,” she says. “We often have children who live in other states who call in and are very comforted that we will call them if there seems to be an issue with their loved one.”

As the needs of MOW’s clients grow, so does the organization’s need for financial and volunteer support. Walden says more volunteers are needed to staff four open routes and to fill other roles. 

“Volunteers can be board members or packers who help pack our red delivery bags,” Walden says. “Volunteers can also make treats for our drivers and non-edible treats for our clients. Volunteers can help with special events, too. We love our volunteers.”

Teri Walden and volunteer Nancy Burke
Teri Walden and volunteer Nancy Burke

Prepared for the Unexpected

Rock Bridge Elementary School is MOW’s Partner in Education. During November, MOW and the school’s Kindness Club joined forces to sack up “blizzard bags” for distribution to MOW clients. If MOW volunteers can’t reach clients due to winter weather, they can use the provisions in the blizzard bag to get by. 

The city of Columbia used MOW to deliver food to people who had to quarantine during the pandemic, and MOW will deliver food to patients who are homebound or restricted following surgery or other medical events. 

MOW works to be prepared for anything, including the unexpected. And while they do their work, dozens of Columbians prepare themselves to answer that knock or ring at their door, knowing a hot meal and a friendly face await them on the other side. 

Meals on Wheels of Columbia, Inc.

Mission Statement
Meals on Wheels of Columbia, Inc. is dedicated and passionate about providing hot, nutritious meals to individuals in need.

Founded: 1972

Board of Directors
Mark Mills, president
Joe Weston, vice president
Sally Robinson, secretary
Megan Stevens, treasurer
Ashley Bowman
David Buster
Janet Gooding
Adam Kruse
Janelle Patterson 
Amanda Reynolds
Ed Schnedler
Veronica Schultz
Kristen Shay
Brian Waller
Kelly Mescher, advisory board
Keri Thoroughman, ex officio
Teri Walden, executive director

Meals on Wheels of Columbia, Inc.
800 Hospital Drive

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