[Note: Dick Toren researched and wrote the story of the beginnings of the Morgantown Area Meals on Wheels for a booklet entitled "A History of the Morgantown Area Meals on Wheels 1973-2000." What follows is a summary of and some quotes from that booklet (also printed in the Morgantown Dominion-Post) plus Betty McCartney's "update" on MOW changes since 2000.]
From the beginning, the mission of the Morgantown Area Meals on Wheels has been "to deliver hot meals to home-bound persons." And on that first delivery day, February 1, 1973, five meals were delivered by three persons in one car. Stan Harris was that first driver, and the meals were carried in a "pasteboard box." From the beginning, MOW has been an all-volunteer organization with no administrative overheard, and with its entire support coming from the community. Clients have paid a nominal amount for meals, based on their ability to pay, and the very needy may be served at no charge." (Clients in the early days paid a maximum of $1.25 for their main meal of the day delivered by noontime; the maximum charge had risen to only $1.70 two decades later.)
What led up to that first delivery involved the concerns and efforts of many individuals and community groups. In the early 1970s the Rev. Violet Petso was director of the Scotts Run Settlement House in Osage, sponsored by the United Methodist Church. In that role Rev. Petso became aware of the many elderly poor who were hard-pressed to obtain sufficient nourishing food, and in 1972 she began taking lunches to them. The lunches were prepared on a home-sized stove at the Settlement House day care center. Recognizing that there were likely many with the same need, Rev. Petso called together a small group of community leaders who might know of others in need. Petso recalled that group included Florence Sperow, a traveling public health nurse, and Glenna Williams, director of the Rock Forge Neighborhood House.
There were two immediate problems to be solved: to find a larger kitchen with a commercial sized stove, and to get the meals delivered. A gift of $2,000 for the stove from the Soroptimist Club (Mary Christopher was the president at the time) solved the first problem, and Margaret Nesius and Dorothy DuBois from the service committee of the Church Women United at the Baptist church agreed to enlist the volunteer drivers. Through Rev. Petso's connection with the WVU School of Social Work, two graduate students set up the structures to organize the local Meals on Wheels program effectively. They drew on examples from other Meals on Wheels programs in places like Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Those early days required frequent meetings by the first MOW Board of Directors, whose members included Arlene Anderson, Virginia Breakiron, Katherine Broderick, Dot DuBois, Edith Glenn, Johanna Householder, Dr. Marilyn Javis-Eckert, Bess Snyder Moll, Margaret Nesius, Violet Petso, Sara Phillips, Mary Jo Staddon and Glenna Williams. While women were the founders of the Morgantown MOW, men were among the drivers from the beginning and eventually numbered about 40% of the drivers, all of whom paid for their own car expenses.
Early on the new Board had to grapple with a decision on whether to seek government support (a federal grant) to ensure financial stability for the fledgling MOW. But as such a grant would have lasted only 3 years, would have required some full-time paid help, and had regulations on how clients were selected, the Board decided to keep the Morgantown Meals On Wheels an all-volunteer organization with only part-time paid professional cooks. With that decision came the need for many new kinds of volunteers, including professional nutritionists to plan meals, shoppers to buy food, a finance committee to handle bills, interviewers to determine client eligibility, route coordinators to plan efficient driver routes, publicity personnel to inform the public about the program and fund raisers to solicit donations to pay for the meals of those who were not charged.
In 1973 the Meals on Wheels program expanded its service area by delivering to the eastern part of the county although all meals continued to be prepared at Scott's Run. An editorial in the Dominion Post commented: "The extension of the county Meals-on-Wheels program to the Sabarton and Dellslow area is encouraging. Meals-on-Wheels is a practical concept whereby people help people. You can't improve on this, only extend it."
Within another year, a second kitchen was opened at the Rock Forge Neighborhood Church, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Johanna Householder was the director of the Rock Forge unit and John and Loretta Wolfe the first Rock Forge drivers. By 1975 the two kitchens were serving 60 people daily and that number had doubled by the 20th anniversary of the organization in 1992. From delivering 9,500 meals using 142 volunteer drivers in 1975, the total meals delivered had grown to 30,000 meals in 1992 using over 200 volunteer drivers.
Support from the community was considerable right from the start. Many church groups responded to the need for expanded volunteer services. In the late 1970s the County Commission agreed to help Meals on Wheels financially with an annual $5,000 contribution based on "the special service MOW provided and the fact that there was no administrative overhead." The Business and Professional Women's organization raised $1,000 with a series of afternoon teas, and a WVU service organization even held an "Ugly Man Contest" and donated $100. By the 1980's local gardeners had been asked to plant an extra row of vegetables to donate to Meals on Wheels. In 1982 the Meals on Wheels program learned that it would not have to pay the state sales tax on the meals "sold" to clients. (A new law exempted the 3% tax "on meals provided at cost or below cost to low income or elderly persons.") This good news saved MOW about $300 a year as the organization, not the clients, had paid the sales tax. An editorial in the Dominion Post (February 25, 1983) noted the multiple responses of the Morgantown community to the Meals on Wheels effort: "Not many, if any, community projects equal the worthiness of the Morgantown Area Meals on Wheels. With just a little help from the County Commission plus the minimal charge to recipients plus volunteer workers, the Meals-on-Wheels project answers a real need in this area. All these volunteers as well as the County Commissioners, individuals and groups that support Meals-on-Wheels are representative of the kind of citizens every community needs."
In 1990 the organization launched its first formal fund-raising drive under the leadership of Dr. Vance Alvis. Several thousand dollars were contributed, with many of the contributions from new donors.
The turn of the century saw the MOW organization undergo some major changes. While the mission of the organization remained constant, the way of carrying out the program began to change. In the year 2000, after many years of close partnership with the Scotts Run Settlement House, it became necessary to close the Scott's Run kitchen and relocate. A lease was secured for the basement of a church building owned by the Suncrest United Methodist Church and located in Star City. A new kitchen was built with modern equipment that would accommodate the preparation of meals for a larger number of clients. This arrangement worked well for some years.
Further change occurred when the MOW Board learned that the Suncrest UMC was interested in selling the church building. A decision was made to negotiate for and ultimately purchase the building in 2005. At the same time, after a long and close relationship with the Rock Forge Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House (the other MOW kitchen and delivery center), a decision was made to consolidate all MOW food preparation at the Star City location. A courier system was established to transport hot meals to the Rock Forge Center for continuing delivery by their volunteer drivers. This system has been effective and continues at the present time.
P. S. In 2011, using the courier system, Goshen Baptist Church was added as a third distribution center to better serve the southeastern end of the county.