A group of students from Florida recently came to Chattanooga to help improve area homes and visit with Meals on Wheels recipients. (Photo: Staff)

Two charities come together twice a year to help the Chattanooga area, and through each organization's strengths, leaders aim to create a more hopeful community. 

Although World Changers and Meals on Wheels both operate throughout the year, they only meet when World Changers participants visit Chattanooga. 

The two organizations recently partnered for the fourth year in a row for Pack the Pantry, which benefits some of the county's Meals on Wheels participants. 

Youth groups from across the country descended on Chattanooga for the service project. They spent hours in the area delivering food to residents, many of which are homebound and lack daily interactions.

More about Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit run through the Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability. It's been serving Hamilton County for 13 years. 

Qualifications to be enrolled in the program specify that the individual must be over the age of 60 and unable to prepare a meal on their own. 

To ask about volunteer opportunities with Meals on Wheels, contact Stacie Smith at 423-424-4277 or stacies@sedev.org.

Nooga.com rode along with one of the groups to get insight into how the delivery process works. 

Delivering hope 
Those who qualify receive daily meals during the weekdays from volunteers. 

Though most seniors appreciate the food, the program offers another benefit: friendship.

The Meals on Wheels program specifies that meals are not to be left on doorsteps; they must be handed to the senior.

This serves as a way to ensure the senior is in good health because most seniors on the routes live alone.

Several volunteers have found seniors unable to open the door because of an injury or sudden medical issue and have been able to contact emergency services.

Because of this requirement, volunteers are welcomed into the home and often spend time with the seniors to whom they deliver. This results in strong friendships between the volunteers and seniors.

"A lot of our people don’t really have anyone there to come and see them," Meals on Wheels program manager Stacie Smith said. "They don’t have visitors during the day and they’re just lonely, so this is a lot more than just a meal. It’s about seeing a person face to face every day."

The seniors validate this. Some say that they are enrolled in the program solely for the people who help them. 

Lester "Jimmy" Cawood is one man who loves the program.

Cawood was recently in the news after being attacked by two men who stopped by his home to chat. He survived the injuries and is living with his son while he recovers.

While in the hospital for a separate medical problem after moving, he called Meals on Wheels to see if they would still deliver to him, despite his new living arrangements, because he wanted to continue his friendship with Laura Mulkey, the site coordinator for Meals on Wheels.

Lester Cawood loves the Meals on Wheels program. Here, he talks to a high school student who participated in the food delivery last week. (Photo: Staff)

"I call her 'Sunshine' because she brings the sunshine every time I see her," Cawood said. 

World Changers in Chattanooga
World Changers, founded in 1990, is a Christian organization that serves communities across North America by improving the homes of people who are unable to do so themselves.

The mission of World Changers is to serve others while also spreading the gospel.

The organization plans more than 50 mission trips a year. World Changers has been visiting Chattanooga for years. 

This year, 600 middle and high school students from 32 churches across the United States came to work on local homes over the course of two weeks.

Renovations commonly done by World Changers include painting, building wheelchair ramps or putting on siding.

Participants worked on 48 houses during their time in Chattanooga.

World Changers also engages with the local communities by giving food to the homeless or working with advocacy groups.

"Through simple things, [the students] are able to show the homeowner that we love [them]. We came from a different state to give [them] our summer," World Changers missions and communications specialist Kelsey Ellis said. "They paid $350 to come and love others."

Working together
Every Wednesday, World Changers goes out into the city they’re stationed in to get a feel for the city. For Chattanooga visitors, that meant partnering with Meals on Wheels. 

The partnership, which has been in place for four years, makes plans to have the students ride along to visit some of the seniors in the Meals on Wheels program. Because the seniors have already received their meals earlier in the day, students bring the seniors extra groceries and stay to chat after. Several groups stay for over an hour at some homes.

Lester Cawood entertains the high school students. (Photo: Staff)

The seniors enjoy having the students visit for the same reasons they enjoy having the volunteers visit: They find joy in having a living room packed with visitors. Some seniors even call the Meals on Wheels program earlier in the year before World Changers visits to ask when members of the organization are coming and to ensure they get a visit.

Seniors are not the only ones who gain from the experience, as students say they are reminded of the impact they can have on the lives of others.

"It was great to see how we can impact the people’s lives by just going and doing simple things like praying for them and bringing them a little bit of extra food," Noah Breeden, a high school World Changer attendee with First Baptist Church from Chattahoochee, Florida, said. 

Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She is also currently attending UTC, where she is the news editor for the school newspaper, The University Echo. Alina is also the Chattanooga correspondent for 2nd & Church, a literary magazine based out of Nashville.