The Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) of Memphis, Tennessee, encompasses more than 30 different programs, serving thousands of individuals. The MIFA Meals program feeds 3,000 people daily; 1,500 of those meals are delivered to frail, homebound citizens with the help of nearly 100 volunteers each weekday. In addition to the hot, balanced meals, the volunteers deliver lots of concern and smiles and provide a physical report on these isolated individuals that may have no one else to check on them.
Of the thousands of dedicated volunteers that the MIFA Meals program has had in its 23-year history, Vernon Stewart is one of the outstanding. At 75 years of age, Stewart has delivered meals for almost 16 years. He presently drives his own vehicle three days per week on delivery routes in some of the roughest areas of Memphis.
For many years Stewart would volunteer five times week, sometimes taking more than one route at a time. He lets nothing stop his service to these needy residents. He has often completed his route despite illness and in all kinds of weather. Once, while on a route, he had an accident and was struck by a hit-and-run driver. Another time his car was stolen while he was delivering meals in a crime-infested area. Stewart also suffers from diabetes and serious vision impairment, but none of his ailments have kept him from serving others.
For a few years, Stewart’s vision became so poor that he was unable to drive. He refused to give up his volunteer service, so he became a part of the Red Cross Daily Hello program and made phone calls to isolated elderly people, giving them reassurance and friendship. Stewart’s energy was not long absorbed by telephone contact work, so he resumed his meal’s delivery volunteer service as a running partner for MIFA drivers. He would ride a city bus to MIFA, which entailed quite a walk to bus stops and a bus ride of more than 25 miles. With a supreme effort, treatment and specially designed glasses, Stewart was eventually able to regain his driving status and was joyous to be on his own again.
In addition to being active in his church (Sunshine Chairman for ten years), Stewart has been a newspaper deliveryman for a non-profit service paper for seniors and a volunteer visitor for MIFA’s Coordinated Care Case Management program. In the latter capacity, he visited frail elderly people to offer needed support and assistance in arranging services for them. An estimate of the hours that Vernon Stewart has given MIFA alone would be 12,000 hours.