It is 8 a.m. on Friday morning in the kitchen of the Medina Senior Center, and Joan Sargent already is at work, scooping pineapple chunks into plastic cups and snapping lids into place. It’s all part of the food prep in progress for the Medina County Office for Older Adults home-delivered meal program, and it’s something Sargent has done for 12 years.
As a food service volunteer, Sargent, 66, ties on an apron and tucks a hairnet into place three mornings a week before whipping up mashed potatoes, making salmon patties, serving hot lunches or washing dishes.
Her dedication earned an honorable mention, one of 25 awarded by the statewide 2012 Medical Mutual Outstanding Senior Volunteer Awards competition.
The York Township resident has volunteered at other groups, but the Office for Older Adults — the nutrition program in particular — holds a special place in her heart. She learned about it when her sister was housebound and received home-delivered meals through that agency.
“Don Chaney was the driver, and he was — and is — so wonderful,” Sargent said, pausing to grab another handful of plastic cups. “I was grateful for everything the program provided. It was nice to have someone to look in on her, to talk to her, when he delivered the meal. I decided after I stopped working I wanted to pay back what they’d given her.”
When she put her nursing career behind her, she started down the path of pots and pans.
“I didn’t know I’d like these big pots and pans quite so much,” she said, laughing as she waved a hand at the shelf crowded with commercial-sized metal mixing bowls, the row of utensils softly glinting in the light. She said she learned a lot from every cook she worked with. “I gained a little more responsibility each time — it was like learning to be a sous chef.”
Laura Toth, director of Medina County Office for Older Adults, nominated Sargent for the Medical Mutual award.
“Without the help of volunteers and staff, the individuals served in these programs would not have a warm lunch meal to enjoy,” Toth wrote in the nomination letter to Medical Mutual. “Many of our consumers are at or below the poverty level and this may be their only hot meal of the day. Food is a basic need, so Joan’s willingness to help our organization enhances the well-being of all of our clientele every time she volunteers.”
“She’s definitely a hard worker,” said Claudia McKenzie, the Office for Older Adults’ nutrition coordinator. “She was a volunteer when I started here, and I could go to her when I had questions. We have fun while we get the work done.”
Consumers ask about her if she’s not present, Toth added. “That’s always a sure sign of someone’s impact on others. She is an asset to this organization and all of Medina County.”
In addition to her regular duties, Sargent frequently steps in to cover food service employee medical leaves. She also participates in regular training sessions required by the agency.
“As a director, I could not ask any more from a volunteer,” Toth said. “She has more seniority in the Medina kitchen as a volunteer than any other current agency employee.”
Sargent said she was surprised when Toth called to tell her about the award. Toth didn’t tell her beforehand that she had nominated her. “I couldn’t believe it.”
“She’s so awesome,” said Therese Reymann-Kerns, Aging and Disabilities Resource Center coordinator for the Office for Older Adults. “I’m so glad she got the award. She does her job with such considerable care, making sure the people are taken care of.”
Sargent, a cancer survivor, sometimes copes with health issues, but she works through them and takes it all in stride.
“Everyone’s got problems,” she said, as she carried a tray of fruit cups to where kitchen staffer Shirley Felicjan packed the cold items for the home-delivered meal. She grinned as she added, “I plan on volunteering as long as I can.”
Sargent and her husband, Noel Sargent, McKenzie and Toth, attended the awards ceremony and banquet hosted by WEWS-TV Channel 5 anchor Danita Harris that honored the honorable mention recipients and four top winners of the competition on Sept. 6.
Contact Judy A. Totts at email@example.com.