By: Brian Lott, TECO Energy News, TECO Energy in the Community

Where will today’s adventure take us?

This one starts on West Grand Central Ave. in Tampa, behind the First Baptist Church, as the rear door of the Meals on Wheels light-duty delivery truck rattles open. Stacy Hallman, forecast analyst lead, is there to receive bags of fresh meals – and a list of names and addresses – from the upbeat truck driver. She and Katy Patrick, load research analyst, situate the meals neatly inside Katy’s SUV and head out into the city.

It’s a winding journey through old Tampa neighborhoods on a day that could barely be nicer. Driving like this gives you a look at the character of the community in ways that you might not otherwise see or seek out.

And here they are, pulling up at a house on Woodlawn Ave. Stacy steps out with a meal bag and goes to the door of the old two-story bungalow.

“Meals on Wheels!” she announces with a knock.

Silence. She tries another door. Nothing. Katy calls Meals on Wheels and right away has an answer: the meal recipient has just gone into the hospital. (Sorry for the confusion!) This kind of thing happens with residents who are homebound due to illness.

Next stop: nearby Adalee Street. (Meals on Wheels works to route volunteer drivers through deliveries that are relatively close to each other.) This time, success – an elderly woman opens the door and happily accepts her meal.

It’s a scavenger hunt of sorts, with moments of gratitude to be discovered and little pockets of mystery along the way. Deliveries are quick – people need to eat, after all – and it’s more enjoyable than you might expect. Some might even say it’s a blast.

Where to next?

“We used to do this once or twice a year,” Stacy said of her deliveries for Meals on Wheels. (The average route includes 10 or more recipients.) “But with fewer volunteers and more homebound people in need of food, it’s more like once a month lately.”

It’s not just happening in Tampa but nationwide. TECO team members like Stacy and Katy, and a handful of others, are diligently building adventure into the middle of their days to help those in need. Marshall Tucker, manager with Tampa Electric’s Corporate Business Development team, is on the Meals on Wheels board. Legal Specialist Heather Douglas coordinates volunteer drivers. They’re looking for help from someone like you.

Because as needs continue to rise, who will meet them? About 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every single day and Meals on Wheels Tampa’s work reflects this: since June 2017, the nonprofit has increased the number of meals it serves from a daily average of 750 to 850 – and it’s added 65 active recipients during that time.

“What you’re doing [with Meals on Wheels] is so important,” a Meals on Wheels recipient who asked not to be named told Stacy. The reason for this request, she said, is about perceptions: “People judge others. They think that if you can greet somebody at your front door, you’re not sick.”

She wanted to drive the point home: “I just want everybody to know how valuable Meals on Wheels is. It’s all I have.”

What does your midday adventure look like? What neighborhoods can you see for the first time? What music plays as you drive to your destinations – Top 40 radio, maybe? Late ’60s Miles Davis or perhaps some old-school Detroit techno (at reasonable volume)? Talk radio? Sports talk?

Or what about the silence of your thoughts, or the conversation you can have with a partner as you travel through the community, bringing a lifeline of food to people who struggle to get it other ways?

Being a Meals on Wheels volunteer is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the community and get out of the office on company time. What you find along the way is the joy you bring in helping others. With company goals again requiring every team member to donate time in the community, now is the time to step up – and sign up.

Can you find it in yourself to give it a try? People who could be your parents or grandparents will be grateful. Meals on Wheels is like a scavenger hunt that nourishes your soul.