Asaiah Edwards is not a typical Meals on Wheels volunteer. For starters, he was born in the 1990s, while most Meals on Wheels volunteers are Baby Boomers. The newly minted college graduate is a popular fixture Meals on Wheels of Mercer County in New Jersey where he volunteered through his entire college career. His service ended only when the global pandemic abruptly shuttered his college campus in March.
Asaiah first became acquainted with Meals on Wheels through the Bonner Community Scholars Program that awarded him a scholarship to attend The College of New Jersey. He and his fellow recipients shared common values, especially as it related to service, and sacrificed precious time during their college experience to invest in the local community. Though he was offered nearly 20 different local community service options to choose from, Asaiah knew immediately he wanted to serve with Meals on Wheels. It was here that he realized the true power of putting yourself in service to those who need it.
Asaiah enrolled in college in 2016 amidst the presidential election. He remembers that there was concern in the air that Meals on Wheels funding would be cut under the new administration. “It got me thinking about the senior population, because I had never really thought too much about it until Meals on Wheels. I always had an idea through school and classes about seniors – that we don’t do a good job of helping them,” said Edwards. So he doubled down on his efforts to serve this vulnerable population and become the change he wanted to see in the world.
Over the course of eight semesters, Edwards delivered hundreds of meals to people in his community, bringing life-changing companionship and smiles to people who often didn’t get to see anyone else all day or all week long. He went on to become a site leader, working as a liaison between university students and the local Meals on Wheels program.
One of his favorite parts of the job was the camaraderie he built when he returned to the same clients day after day, week after week. He enjoyed delivering to one Meals on Wheels client in particular, a different Mr. Edwards, who he jokingly referred to as his uncle because they shared a last name.
Asaiah also noted the power of personal outreach when COVID hit, when social distancing further isolated many seniors from their communities. “I remember calling a woman [to check on her]. She told me ‘I don’t think I would be here to this day if it weren't for Meals on Wheels. My parents have passed. My brother passed. I don’t have a lot of friends I can get in contact with anymore, but to receive food and continue living here [in my own home] -- I really appreciate it.’ It’s very powerful to have that conversation, hearing that ‘without this organization I don’t know if I would be here.’”
Upon his graduation, Asaiah looks back on his many hours delivering meals as some of his best and most meaningful college memories. “It’s about more than delivering meals.”
Meals on Wheels is making sure seniors aren't forgotten during the crisis with telephone check-ins, community letters and even a friendly wave from the car. Read more here.