It’s 10 a.m. Friday morning when 89-year-old Highland Park resident Mary Bartholow arrives at Northway Christian Church to pick up food for her Meals on Wheels route.
Once it comes time for her route, three other volunteers ride along with her in her Buick, stopping at about 10 houses total. As she walks up to the third house on the route, a first-time volunteer follows behind her, watching how it’s done.
Bartholow, who walks without a cane or walker, opens the door and alerts the recipient with a gentle but stern, “Meals on Wheels.”
She’s been volunteering with the Visiting Nurses Association since the mid-1980s, when she and her husband rounded up four teams of couples to help with their Meals on Wheels route.
“We got a group of five teams, including ourselves, of couples that were friends of my husband’s and mine and then later on, I realized my church was doing two routes, so then I became kind of the coordinator,” Bartholow said.
After helping her church with the routes, she coordinated about 30 volunteers to help her out. Today, she’s in charge of more than 180.
Molina Healthcare of Texas recently awarded Bartholow for her work with $1,000 to a nonprofit organization of her choice. Bartholow gave it back to VNA’s Meals on Wheels.
Through the years, Bartholow has seen a lot, she said, including one woman bound to a wheelchair because of a stroke. She would follow Bartholow to the door because she wanted to go home with her.
It broke Bartholow’s heart, she said, but when she can help someone out, she does.
She describes one woman’s home that was unlivable. She asked the government to help out, but first, the woman’s original home needed to be clean.
“We had to clear her house for them to work on it,” she said. “We had to get everything out. We got two other people who drove that route and we went in and started taking all this stuff out and I’ll tell you, those mice and rats were running all over the place. It was just incredible, but we got it done.”
Being there beyond delivering the meals helps the VNA, managing director Betsy Cox said.
“It’s volunteers like Mary, either on their own or a part of the group, that are our eyes and ears, helping our seniors, who are trying to live at home with dignity and independence,” Cox said. “We provide a safety net, as you’ve heard through Mary’s stories, because we’re making those connections and relationships.”
Even with Bartholow’s recognition, she is quick to turn it back around and speak about VNA’s work.
“I’m not a saint at all,” she said. “It’s just that it’s such a simple thing to help a person in need.”