Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
That’s what got John Henry involved with delivering 13 years ago, a job he’s still doing once a week. And he’s brought in a partner, Harold Weiher, to help with the deliveries, simply by asking. It's the same way he was recruited all those years ago by Bob Jack, former owner of who now has retired and moved to Pennsylvania.
“Bob Jack asked me if I would help out and I thought, why not? The fact is, I realize how important it is, a service that needs to be done,” Henry said. “The clients are confined to home and they’re mostly elderly. A lot of people are unaware that they depend on these meals.”
Henry averages eight or nine deliveries on his Meals on Wheels route, which takes him into Northport and out to Asharoken one day a week. “Many of the clients that we deliver to, we are the only ones they see during the day,” he said. “You don’t feel right if you don’t stay and chat a bit.”
“I’ve become very friendly with many of the clients. I get into conversations with them and know things about their families, and they know about mine.” On occasion his wife, Wardean, also has visited clients with him. “Most of my clients are elderly and live alone,” he said. “In my run I only have one couple.”
That Monday through Friday meal delivery is vital not only for the food the drivers bring but so the volunteers can check that the resident is safe. They also socialize a bit, maybe drop off mail for them or change a lightbulb, said Nancy Bazzicalupo, president of the board of directors. If there’s no answer to their knock, the drivers try to call from a neighbor’s house or from the next client’s house, and if they don’t get through, the drivers then alert the office for further checking.
Henry picks up the meals – lunch and dinner, one a hot meal and one a bag meal – at around 11 a.m. and is back from his delivery run by about 1 p.m. His regular delivery day is Wednesday, but he helps out as a substitute and also makes deliveries occasionally at Thanksgiving and Christmas, although he said many clients are with family those days so there are fewer deliveries.
“He’s always ready to pitch in,” said Laura Spalding, who schedules the volunteers and who he often helps out when she needs a substitute driver. “He’s very concerned, and he has a good rapport with the clients. We love having him.”
When he’s not volunteering with Meals on Wheels, Henry is helping deliver the food donated each Sunday by fellow members of his to the Huntington Food Pantry, another volunteer job he has performed for years. Henry also is a regular fixture at Huntington High School football games, home and away, and at most basketball games as well. He’s often seen at the field with his son, Steve Henry, who previously coached varsity girls’ softball for Huntington and handles videotaping for the football team.
Henry worked 25 years as a state trooper with Troop L on Long Island, and then worked another seven years as an employment specialist for the Urban League of Long Island in Melville when he retired from the police force. He's happy to volunteer his time, and enjoys the sense of community. "One of the reasons we feel blessed is that our kids and grandkids are still here," Henry said. He moved here in 1953 from Queens and one of his sons, Ward, lives in the house behind his that his wife's parents had as a summer home.
Meals on Wheels wouldn’t be able to operate without volunteers like Henry and Weiher and the many others who make deliveries, said Bazzicalupo, herself a volunteer who started helping out 25 years ago. "You have to die or move away to get out of it once you start helping," she joked.
Volunteers come to the program for various reasons -- because they're asked to help out by a current volunteer, which is why Weiher said he's helping now, or they hear about the service and want to help, or they're looking for a manageable commitment, about two hours once a week.
The Meals on Wheels program began operating in Huntington in 1977 and now serves 100 people a day. It gets its meals from Huntington Hospital and Apex Rehab and Healthcare Center in Huntington Station, and can accommodate requests from people with special dietary needs, such as diabetes or those on dialysis. Clients are charged a nominal fee for the meals.
Volunteers are always needed. Anyone who is interested should call the Meals on Wheels office at 271-5150 or e-mail the program at email@example.com . The office is housed at 423 Park Ave., the town’s senior center, and is staffed from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday.