Fred and Mary Stierhoff were recently named the Memorial Health 2021 Volunteers of the Year. Mary has been volunteering with Memorial since 1982 and Fred joined her in the mid-1990s. Together, they drove 9,494 miles delivering mobile meals and logged 937 service hours during 2020. (Photo submitted)
Log more than 9,000 miles for Mobile Meals in 2020
Not even a global pandemic would keep Fred and Mary Stierhoff off the roads.
Together, they drove 9,494 miles during 2020 delivering mobile meals for Memorial Hospital throughout Union County.
“We always said we could write a book about Meals on Wheels,” Mary said.
She has plenty of experience to draw from, since she began volunteering with Memorial Health in 1982.
Mary said the hospital purchased televisions from the business she and her husband, Fred, were working at and wanted to return the favor.
“I felt like I should give back,” she explained.
Mary said she formed a relationship with the volunteer coordinator at the time, joking that “she’d pester me” to continue delivering meals.
“I just kept on going,” she said.
After a decade of volunteering, Fred joined Mary in the mid-1990s after she asked him, “Why don’t we do something together?”
The pair has steadily continued their service and was recognized as Memorial Health’s Volunteers of the Year this week.
“We couldn’t have gotten through 2020 without them,” said Director of Volunteer Services Joni Stevens.
Mary said as long as “the good Lord blessed us with health,” she and her husband were going to keep volunteering through COVID-19.
In fact, Fred said their operations ramped up during the pandemic.
When he first began driving for mobile meals, he said he drove one route, once a week. In 2020, he delivered four or five days weekly and never missed a week.
Fred said he now knows all 11 routes and is often the first person called when a substitute is needed.
He and Mary are so familiar with the mobile meals program that they often train new volunteers joining the group.
“The weekend feels kind of dull,” Fred joked.
Despite their award, Mary said most of their work takes place behind the scenes.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fred said mobile meal delivery drivers would go into a client’s home to drop off their food.
Mary said they only spent a few minutes in each home, but she still got to know who she was delivering to and “formed a care” for them.
Though the program’s protocols have changed during the pandemic, Fred and Mary said their care for the clients is the same.
Fred said meals are now placed in a bag that is hung on the client’s door. Instead of seeing them personally, volunteers wait in their car to make sure the client opens their door and grabs the food.
Mary said it can be challenging to miss out on the small interactions she used to share with the people receiving meals.
“It bothers me,” she said.
Even so, Mary said she still appreciates being able to “check in on them” and was even able to write a small note for one woman that she sent inside with her meal.
Not all connections were lacking last year, though.
Mary said mobile meals volunteers participated in a “talk fest,” similar to a conference call, during which they were able to update each other and hear about one another’s lives.
She said it’s easy to bond with and become friends with fellow volunteers. After spending so many years together, she said they’re more like a family.
Stevens said she has witnessed many relationships formed between volunteers, whether they’re playing cards together or supporting each other through tough times.
“They help each other with life’s challenges,” Stevens said.
Their encouragement played out just moments before, as face-mask clad volunteers gathered around Mary to hear an update about a friend who was currently in surgery.
Along with those friendships, Stevens said volunteering often provides retirees with a sense of purpose, plus social time and opportunities to stay active.
“We need them just as much as they need us,” she said.
The Stierhoffs agreed they’ve “been lucky” that volunteering continues to play a large role in their lives.
“My son told me, ‘You’ve gone from delivering TVs to delivering meals,’” Mary said. “It’s just how your life evolves.”