ANNAPOLIS – Twice a week, Jeremy Coylewright stops along two routes to deliver a hot and cold meal to homebound recipients of Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland. But he does not do the job alone.
As Coylewright approaches each home, he brings along with him his 9-year old daughter, Izaia, 5-year old son, Indigo, and even his 17-month-old foster daughter, Angel.
Coylewright and his children began volunteering with Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland in May after he started home-schooling his children and wanted them to experience community service.
Coincidentally, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, which prepared and delivered 760,000 meals to homebound clients last year, announced in September that it would be offering service learning opportunities for home-schooled children.
“Meals on Wheels is a natural conduit to having kids interact with their community,” Coylewright said.
The new program is an expansion of the Moms for Meals campaign, a two-year-old program that targets stay-at-home moms and offers opportunities for them to bring along their children when delivering meals in the summer or during holidays.
Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland decided to allow parents and their children to participate at other times during the year.
They also felt it would be a useful way for Maryland children to attain their 75 or more service learning hours that are required for high school graduation. These hours are usually counted beginning in middle school, according to the state Department of Education.
“We decided to launch it in September because summer is ending and a school year is beginning,” said Toni Gianforti, manager of marketing and communications for Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland. “There’s an increasing amount of families who are home-schooling in Maryland.”
Coylewright did not know about the Moms on Wheels campaign when he began, but he likes to remind Meals on Wheels that dads can do it, too. Either way, he is a supporter of their campaigns.
“I would speak highly of home-schooling and Meals on Wheels,” Coylewright said. “Combining the two is why service learning is important and why home-schooling is important because they allow kids to get out of school and interact in their community.”
Every Tuesday and Friday, Coylewright and his children start their shift around 10:30 a.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Baltimore and wait for the Meals on Wheels truck to arrive at the pickup site.
The Coylewright family meets with Frank Novak, the site coordinator, who prepares maps and a route book with each recipient’s name, address and special instructions for them. When the Meals on Wheels truck arrives, they load the meals and baskets in the van and travel to homes in Baltimore within 10 miles from the pickup site.
For most stops along their usual two routes, Izaia and Indigo carry one meal each. On a recent Tuesday, Indigo had the hot meal.
“I don’t like the hot trays on Fridays,” Indigo said.
“Because Friday is fish,” Izaia said.
At each stop, Coylewright and his children knock on the door, announcing, “Meals on Wheels.” There, they talk with the recipients briefly.
Izaia and Indigo not only know the recipients by name and home, they also know the names of the pets.
And for those who receive meals, the children are a pleasant surprise.
“I like the children to come, and I like the meals,” said Baltimore recipient Grace Bova.
The Coylewright family stops at about nine homes before returning the cooler and hot box that carry meals to the pickup site. After they go home, Izaia and Indigo have journaling assignments about their experiences.
“We’ll usually process how it went and how they feel interacting with people who are different from them,” Coylewright said.
Izaia said she enjoys walking around in different parts of town and writing about what people look like and say.
Indigo said he likes drawing in his journal. One entry in particular was a picture of all of the recipients’ pets.
People like the Coylewright family are essential to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland at a time when volunteer rates are lower than usual.
Patrice Woodward, volunteer recruitment specialist for Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, said they have noticed lower numbers of people interested in volunteering and are not sure if it is due to gas prices.
Coylewright thinks it’s more than worthwhile.
“It’s important life training for them and it’s a lot of fun,” he said.”Not only is volunteering important but they can envision career opportunities. They get a lot out of it.”