Susan Barefoot: Delivering Comfort One Meal at a Time

Susan Barefoot has a soft spot in her heart for the elderly members of society. The work she does with Meals on Wheels doesn’t draw a paycheck, but it does pay her in smiles, and that’s what she looks forward to with every meal she delivers.

“I was so scared before my first day delivering meals, but once I saw the smiles on the faces of the people getting them, it was worth it,” Barefoot said. “The need is so great.”

Barefoot initially got involved with Meals on Wheels by helping a friend decorate a reception hall for the organization’s Fat Tuesday fundraiser. While helping, she saw the need and was driven to find out how she could help.

“I’m crazy about the elderly,” Barefoot said. “So much of the time the elderly is forgotten. But when they’re disabled or can’t drive a car, they really need us.

“It feels good not only to be able to give them food to put on the table, but it’s also a great feeling inside to see the smiles on their faces when you come by.

“I know how it really helps them with food, but it’s also about checking on them to make sure they’re OK.”

Barefoot says that she has become attached to some of the people on her delivery route. In particular, a pair of elderly sisters she delivers meals to really hold a special place in her heart. She recalled one day when she arrived at the sisters’ house, her last stop, only to discover she was short one container of milk. Knowing how much the sisters needed the milk, she left for the grocery store and returned with a half gallon of milk for them.

“They were so thankful for that, and it made me realize how much they count on that milk from us,” she said.

Barefoot noted that for many of the individuals, the meals that are delivered to them often make up more than 50 percent of the food they eat that day.

“Some of these people never see another person except for the person dropping off the meal.”

“One of the elderly gentlemen I delivered meals to would say ‘God bless you’ every time I came to his door,” she recounted. “It would just bring tears to my eyes.”

Barefoot’s involvement with Meals on Wheels goes beyond meal delivery. She has been delivering for five years, and is in her fourth year on the board of directors, currently serving as immediate past president. As part of the board, one of her big initiatives has been fundraising, which she said is key to keeping the organization afloat.

Each weekday, Meals on Wheels delivers 1,100 meals to homebound senior residents in Wake County and serves 400 meals at eight senior dining rooms. But, there are currently nearly 400 people on the waiting list to receive meals the organization provides, and until the funding is in place, they can only become part of the organization through natural attrition.

Currently, Meals on Wheels receives 50 percent of its funding from federal assistance, 33 percent from private funding, 6 percent from The United Way and 11 percent from various other public sources.

“The federal and state money has not increased to cover the rate of inflation over the last eight years,” she said. “We know that the next 20 years the senior population in Wake County will triple and we will have more requests for meals. Either federal, state or county money will need to increase or fundraising will have to increase.”

It is because of this need and those 400 people on the waiting list that Barefoot is heavily involved with the fundraising efforts of the organization. In her time on the board, she has watched the Fat Tuesday fundraiser grow from 50 attendees to more than 400. In 2011, they are preparing for 500 attendees at the event.

“Susan is one of our most committed, dedicated volunteers, not only on the board level, but also as a driver,” said Mary Kate Keith, director of development and communications. “She is so committed to what we do to serve our senior neighbors. She doesn’t just talk about it, she does it.”

Keith describes Barefoot’s involvement with Meals on Wheels as reaching beyond just the time she volunteers. “You have to have a dedication to not only helping with the physical aspect, but also with the overall mission. Susan has a good vision of where we can go and she’s not afraid to work to reach that potential.

“You have to have a caring and compassionate heart to do this work,” Keith added. “You wouldn’t be doing Meals on Wheels if you didn’t.”

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