She’s delivered meals for more than four decades
Read about Dorothy Newland, our longest-serving volunteer, and her passion for others
When Dorothy Newland began volunteering for the Athens Community Council on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program in 1973, little did she know she was just getting started. Forty-nine years later, she’s still volunteering and doesn’t plan on stopping.
“I was in my twenties, with two preschool-aged children, and wanted to volunteer somewhere where my children could also be involved. I was particularly drawn to Meals on Wheels because it was so hands on. I loved the face-to-face aspect,” Newland said. “The children would carry the milk or whatever else they could and were very proud to be helping. Plus, the participants loved seeing the children.”
Forty-nine years is a long time for anything – for ACCA’s Meals on Wheels program, Newland has set the record for being their longest-running volunteer.
It’s led to some heartwarming and funny moments over the years.
“I had a Volvo station wagon with a tailgate that lifted when you pushed a button. I had to have it replaced three different times – just from opening it so much to get meals out,” Newland laughed. “I wore out the hydraulics again and again!”
Newland has made so many friends through delivering meals. Some people she has delivered to almost as many years as she’s volunteered.
“I have one lady on my route, Hattie, who I’ve had for around 30 years. When I started, it was Hattie and her mother but her mother passed away a long time ago,” Newland said. “I had another lady who made it to her 100th birthday but she passed away during the pandemic – I delivered to her for years as well.”
For Newland, volunteering with Meals on Wheels has become far more than just a “volunteer position.”
“I don’t have any artistic talents or anything like that but I can go hand a meal to someone and talk to them,” she said. “And the payback – the friends I’ve made, the memories I’ve made and am still making – is so big. I have volunteered a lot over the years and sometimes I’ve volunteered at a place and thought ‘that wasn’t worth my time’ but volunteering with Meals on Wheels has always been so rewarding.”
In fact, she’s made connections that have lasted decades.
“You get really attached to them [the participants]. For the most part, they are so appreciative and so wise. I have loved seeing their good attitudes when most of them had a good reason not to have a good attitude,” Newland said. “I have one lady, who is no longer getting meals because her daughter is now taking care of her, who sent me the sweetest letter [of appreciation] the other day.
“Another participant, who lived past her 100th birthday, worked as domestic help back in the day. When her daughter moved next door to her, the daughter and I became the best of friends – still today, I probably count her among my top 10 friends.”
As far as retiring, Newland doesn’t plan to – until she absolutely has to.
“I would keep volunteering until I dropped. However I have some health issues and unfortunately one of them is macular degeneration,” she said. “I’m okay for now but I think the time will come when I am going to have to quit driving. I’m lucky, though, that my husband Jim has bought into Meals on Wheels as well and he already substitutes if something comes up and I can’t do my route. So, I hope that when I can’t see, I will still be able to deliver meals because of him.
“You know, I was driving out of ACCA recently after picking up meals and was thinking ‘This came out of nothing.’ There were only a few people in the beginning, the movers and shakers who got this started, but that was it. And now look at it – it’s just amazing.
“Keep on keeping on for another 50 years!”