There are usually four or five of them, and they gather the biodegradable fiber containers of food waiting for them in the stainless-steel hot box and load them into their cars along with brown paper sacks packed with bread, butter, a milk carton, a dessert or pieces of fruit.
Each volunteer will transport up to eight meals per day to homes around the greater Normandy area as part of the Meals on Wheels of Greater St. Louis program. As many as 35 area residents will receive meals in a given day.
Only inclement weather, like Monday morning’s ice storm, or major holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s, interrupts this scene from happening every day – Monday through Friday – throughout the year. It’s been occurring for far more than a decade.
“The people at Sodexo, from Bob and Tony on down – they are just most accommodating, most helpful and friendly to us,” Normandy Meals on Wheels Program Chair Mary Lou Krueger said while referring to General Manager Robert Marx, Executive Chef Antonio Mancarella and the rest of the UMSL Sodexo team that prepare meals each day to assist local residents in need. “We just appreciate all of them.”
But the volunteer drivers somehow manage to slip in and out without hardly anyone on campus noticing. They’re usually gone before 10:30 a.m., well before students, faculty members and staff have made their way to The Nosh for lunch, and most members of the UMSL community would have no idea they were even there.
As part of the observance of UMSL’s 60th anniversary, the university is celebrating all of the ways it has positively impacted the St. Louis region and that includes a commitment to volunteering by members of the campus community. In fact, the university launched an UMSL Serves initiative with a collective goal to complete 60,000 hours of volunteer service between August 21, 2023, and May 11, 2024. Anyone who loves UMSL is encouraged to log their service hours on campus, in the wider community or beyond to contribute to the initiative.
The Sodexo team’s efforts to support Meals on Wheels are just one example of how members of the campus community have contributed to that effort.
“It’s something that we love doing,” Marx said. “You know, it’s giving back to the community. We’ve been doing it here for years. I think it’s great.”
Those eligible to receive meals through Meals on Wheels of Greater St. Louis include people who are elderly or disabled, people recovering from illness or surgery or anyone not able to shop for or prepare meals at home. There are no restrictions based on age, race or economic status.
The Normandy program that Sodexo serves is one of 11 Meals on Wheels programs operating across the region. It relies on a team of committed volunteers and was first launched in the mid-1970s.
Some days Mancarella and his team will take leftover ingredients from a campus catering event to give to residents who are part of the program, but more often they create meals from scratch. One day this month, they served up a grilled pork chop and potatoes. Another day, it was stir fry. Still another, spaghetti and meatballs.
“I always try to do an entrée, a vegetable and a starch,” Mancarella said. “Sometimes when we’re real busy in the kitchen, we’ll try and do something cold like a sandwich or a chef’s salad. Sometimes we’re using all the hot boxes and don’t have the luxury of taking a hot box upstairs.”
“I know that Tony and his team will provide a delicious meal every day,” Marx said.
Krueger, whose husband, Jim, spent more than 40 years working at UMSL and retired in 2015 as vice chancellor for managerial and technological services, said she and the other volunteers get overwhelmingly positive reviews from the people to whom they deliver meals.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Krueger said other St. Louis-area Meals on Wheels programs, particularly ones that got their meals from hospitals or nursing homes, had to suspend their operations because the volunteers were restricted from accessing those facilities. But the Sodexo team found a way to make accommodations to continue operating. Instead of inviting the drivers to pick up meals in the kitchen of the MSC, they started meeting them out on the loading dock.
“They’ve just continued to serve us all through that and kept on doing so, and we are most appreciative of that,” Krueger said. “It’s a needed service, and we’re happy to provide it. We and UMSL are very reliable. Those times when we have to cancel are happily not too many.”
Help the university reach its goal of 60,000 hours of community service by logging volunteer and service hours at the UMSL Serves website.