Zoe Lawhorn, Meals on Wheels Ministry Inc.

Zoe LawhornName: Zoe Lawhorn  

Title: Vice President of Development and Public Relations 

Organization: Meals on Wheels Ministry Inc.

How did you become interested in this work?

I became interested in the non-profit world in general during my first few years as a member of the Junior League of Tyler. I left publishing, after 7 years, to become the PR Coordinator for the Tyler Museum of Art. One day, I received a phone call asking if I’d be interested in a development position at Meals on Wheels Ministry. I knew nothing about working with the elderly, and I had no idea how to raise money, but I took a leap of faith into the world of Meals on Wheels.

What drives your passion?

I believe that every person has an obligation to do their part to make the world a better place, and not in a dreamy, obtuse, poetic way, but in the way that involves real self-sacrifice, emotional and often financial investment, and actual hands-on work. The volunteers here at Meals on Wheels don’t just “like” memes and share posts on social media…they actually put their energy and resources into helping someone else every day.

What’s the biggest challenge in your work?

The biggest challenge, in my view, is the complexity and size of the need we serve when paired with the somewhat limited resources we have at our disposal. I think most people working in the non-profit world operate under the pressure of multiple hats. At times, it can be really difficult to stay motivated and optimistic, but you just remember to focus on what you can do, what you can accomplish, and work hard knowing that what you do each day is important, even if you’re never finished.

Does your organization offer any programs other than home meal delivery?

Meals Fur Pets is our household pet food assistance program that was initiated three years ago and is offered in partnership with our local no-kill shelter, Pets Fur People. We have grown from serving just 80 clients to nearly 400, and we are shifting some PR and development attention to this program going forward in order to further develop its potential.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

You’ll never regret doing what you believe is right.

Was there a client, volunteer, or poignant moment in your work that has had a great impact on you?

When I first came to work for MOWM, we had a volunteer shortage, and employees frequently covered routes. I’d covered routes every day that week. I was on a grant deadline, it was the dead of summer, and I got stuck with the van with the questionable air conditioning. I think I was wearing a black turtleneck. I was flying through my route, knocking loudly and leaving the meals without saying much to the clients. I pulled up to one of the final houses on my route, and the woman was waiting on the patio. “I thought, great! This will be quick,” and nearly sprinted up the sidewalk. But when I got to the porch, Beulah stood up. She asked for her regular volunteer by name, and seemed upset that she wasn’t there. I just explained that she’d called in, and I was covering for her. She asked me if I didn’t mind checking her mail box, and with a little bit of exasperation, I returned back to the street and retrieved a single white envelope. When I handed it to Beulah, she began to weep. I don’t know what was in the envelope, but I sat down with Beulah at that point, and she began to tell me how sorry she was; she was having a hard time and had been looking forward to seeing her regular volunteer. This volunteer had become her only close friend, and over the weekend, Beulah’s daughter lost her 10 year battle with breast cancer.

I was speechless. I looked over her shoulder and saw all of her daughter’s belongings, sectioned into piles across her living room floor. Beulah was utterly alone, trying to go through her daughter’s humble belongings. I stayed with Beulah until hear tears subsided, and as I had time to think about the experience, it taught me a lot. One, our clients have lives and dimension. They still experience loss and endure personal struggles, and they are so often left alone to grapple with hard circumstances. Unbearable pain can still creep in, and a MOW volunteer may be the closest person a client has to confide in and depend on.

Seeing Beulah there, crying, with no one to lean on…it absolutely broke my heart.  It was so pitiful and sad. But by the time I left, Beulah wasn’t crying anymore. I was able to call and chat with her for a few minutes a day over the next few weeks, just to let her know we cared about her, and to make sure she had someone to talk to.  I know that Meals on Wheels Ministry made a difference in her life, and that we were able to provide her some comfort. I think about her all the time, and I remember that we mean something to the people we serve. Meals on Wheels is more than numbers and reports; it’s more even than the meals we provide, and in fact, I believe that it is the unquantifiable impact we make that really defines our service.

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