By Kelsey Durham
Every Saturday morning, Virginia DeMillio heads to Sacred Heart Church in Bayside, notebook in hand, and updates a tally she has kept for nearly 31 years.
To date, her notebook includes more than 62,000 hash marks, representing the more than 62,000 meals she has helped provide for thousands of neighborhood residents over the years as coordinator of the church’s Meals on Wheels program.
Since 1983, the Bayside native has dedicated her weekends to making sure that no senior citizen, or anyone in need of meal assistance, goes hungry.
“The city provides a Meals on Wheels program during the week, but they don’t do it on the weekends, so that’s where we come in,” DeMillio said. “For the most part, it’s the elderly, but sometimes there are people who are younger and might be sick or have something going on, but there is always a need out there.”
Every Friday, three teams of between six and eight volunteers take turns cooking the 44 meals that are currently part of the church’s delivery program, which gives each resident in need two meals per weekend. DeMillio then packages the food and prepares it to be sent out, and volunteers deliver the meals to 18 addresses around Bayside, sometimes two deliveries to one house.
DeMillio has been involved with Sacred Heart’s Meals on Wheels since it was founded in 1983 on a suggestion by a nun who helped her get the program up and running. When she was asked to take part in coordinating and distributing the meals, DeMillio said she was glad to be able to do something to help others.
Three decades later, her motivation to continue has not changed.
“I think it’s just a wonderful thing to have this kind of outreach,” she said. “It makes a big difference for the people who receive the meals and it connects them with the community. The idea that someone is coming to the door and ringing the bell and handing them a bag, checking up on them and making sure they’re OK. It makes them feel like they’re still part of the community.”
The Meals on Wheels program is funded in combination by the church and by donations from parishioners, but DeMillio said there is no requirement that people who ask for weekend meal assistance be Catholic. The only thing the church asks, she said, is that they live within the confines of Bayside.
Despite working full time as a junior high school teacher at Sacred Heart School, having two young grandchildren and also serving as a Sisters of Mercy associate, DeMillio said the thought of walking away from Meals on Wheels has never once crossed her mind. Though she has a demanding life of her own that always keeps her busy, she knows there are people who need her.
“I’ve never thought about stopping because I believe in it so much,” she said. “I feel that this is what we’re all about, reaching out and being of assistance to others and helping where we can. It’s hard at times, but I really feel like I’ve gotten back much more than I’ve given.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at [email protected].