Volunteer meals include a little treat and a labor of love

by April Lisante
Posted 9/29/21

Every day over at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, an army of tireless volunteers puts together about 70 meals for local seniors and those who need assistance.

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Volunteer meals include a little treat and a labor of love

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Every day over at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, an army of tireless volunteers puts together about 70 meals for local seniors and those who need assistance.

The Meals on Wheels organization ladles soups, packages lunches and dinners, and delivers to 13 different zip codes from Mt. Airy to Fort Washington – and now additionally, Roxborough and Manayunk.

I’ve done past stories about this life-saving organization, but there is a group of volunteers working behind the scenes I haven’t written about. And they might well be bringing the most joy to the meal recipients.

They are the local bakers, volunteers who sign up to make at least 70 individually-wrapped baked goods at a time to deliver to the church each morning, just in time for the lovingly hand-packaged goodies to make it into the delivery bags.

This is a labor of love. These are unsung heroes, selfless individuals.  I can recall many attempts at baking cartoon cupcakes to send in for my twins’ class parties. Oh, it ends badly with me bemoaning the fact that the 20 confections looked like horror story faces, icing mangled and candy eyes askew. If tasked with 70 such disasters, I’d be hard-pressed not to ask all the kids to sign waivers at the front office. 

Yet every weekday, a different volunteer baker drops off creations at the church, homemade additions to meals that bring smiles to faces. The only requirements? That they make 70 of any dessert, individually package them and make sure not to use any nuts in case of allergies. The sign-up list is a popular one, with bakers taking assigned days once every few weeks to do their part. Retirees love it, as do local parents and kids. Even the children and families of Beth Tikvah-B’nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim provide baked goods on the regular, according to Rabbi Roni Handler.

“Families are baking from home,” Handler said. “Every year we try to do it a couple of times.”

Volunteers foot the bills for the confections they make. The Meals on Wheels organization relies on subsidies for about 60 percent of the meals it serves. The operation recently landed a permanent space at the Flourtown church, after working out of other locations. The organization’s annual Harvest Kitchen Tour, featuring chefs in local kitchens, typically brings in about $30,000 to help subsidize meals. This year it will be a raffle, featuring things like restaurant gift certificates (www.chestnuthillmow.org).

While donated meals are provided by local restaurants and businesses each day, it is the bakers who make sure the deliveries have a slice of love included.

Mary Ellen Porreca of Mt. Airy works in interior design and part time at Noble Goods in Chestnut Hill. She started baking for Meals on Wheels about two years ago, just before the pandemic, when her son went to college, her daughter was in high school and she “had some extra time.” Once quarantine hit, she and her daughter, Fanny, 17, baked together, making the project a bonding experience and a chance to give back to the community.

Now, she continues to bake about every three weeks, delivering blondies, brownies and cookies made from recipes she researches and lovingly crafts at home.

“I always do cookies or bars,” said Porreca. “I just look for recipes. It’s fall, so now I’m making molasses sugar cookies, of course. I like to bake and figure it’s better to do it and get it out of the house before I eat it.”

For Margaret Fox, an oil painter from Mt. Airy, delivering desserts every few weeks to Meals on Wheels might just be another artistic outlet. For the past year since signing on as a volunteer baker, she has reveled in making unique treats for those in need.

During the pandemic, when flour was scarce at the grocery store – blame all those at-home bread bakers – she would order 50-pound bags of flour online just to get the job done. 

“I ordered it online and had it delivered,” Fox said. “I’m well into my second 50-pound bag of flour.”

She makes everything from blueberry cake bars, a recent summer treat, to holiday cupcakes, which she decorates and places in individual boxes.

“If it’s anywhere near a holiday, I like to do something a little extra. My shopping cart on baking weeks, I get some really funny looks,” Fox said. “It’s filled with bags of sugar and flats of eggs and chocolate. You have to buy massive quantities.

“I know from friends and family who are limited in their ability to get out how it is important to do something special. I just love doing it.”

For more information or to volunteer and sign up to bake, go to www.chestnuthillmow.org.

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