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She stays on call so others can eat

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image Marian Smoker's delivery people gather the bag lunches that go with the hot meals. They are Margaret and Philip Vaske, Casey and Ernie Schoen, and Sandra and Robert Michelson. Photo Penny Fletcher

Smoker is the coordinator of the Sun City Center Meals on Wheels program, making the schedules for about 30 volunteers a month supplied by area houses of worship, clubs and service organizations.


Until I met Marian Smoker I hadn’t heard of a volunteer who was scheduled to work all 365 days of the year.

“It’s true,” Smoker said in an interview Jan. 25. “When I want days off I have to schedule them in advance.”

Her two back-ups are Carmen Mejas and Marge Ellis, who also live in Sun City Center. Sometimes, Smoker takes as long as a month off to travel with her husband Richard, but when she’s home, she works every day.

She says she enjoys the job and has given up other volunteer positions so she can concentrate on it.

She only has to leave the house for a couple of hours in the afternoons, but it’s important she be at her post to make sure Meals on Wheels are delivered to people who can’t cook for themselves. And she spends hours on paperwork at home, scheduling and planning routes for other volunteers.

Smoker is the coordinator of the Sun City Center Meals on Wheels program, making the schedules for about 30 volunteers a month supplied by area houses of worship, clubs and service organizations.

When Smoker first moved from Pennsylvania eight years ago, she volunteered along with her husband for the Sun City Center Security Patrol and Sun City Center Ride, which takes people who can no longer drive to the places they need to go in the Ruskin-Sun City Center area.

Sun City Center Ride is a program of Samaritan Services Inc., which is where Smoker first met her mentor, Doris Ragland.

“She was the initiator who got me started,” Smoker said. “But I wouldn’t give it up now unless I had to.”

Ragland, who coordinates many events and programs at Samaritan Services, found out in conversations that Smoker had worked in transportation in Pennsylvania, taking special needs children to school and special events.

“They had physical or mental disabilities, like Downs syndrome,” Smoker said.

In all her time in Pennsylvania, she only had one accident while driving, and she remembers it well.

“There was a lot of slushy ice, and I was driving uphill. You couldn’t see what was ahead, and it was very slippery. All of a sudden this horse and buggy- with no driver- ran out in front of me and smashed into me,” she said.

It was in Amish country, and when the owner finally caught up with his horse and buggy, he told her it was the third time that horse had run away while hitched to the cart.

“That was quite an experience,” she said, now able to laugh about it.

For awhile, she was working with the Security Patrol, Sun City Center Ride and Meals on Wheels. But then she became coordinator of the meals program and knew she would have to quit the others to do it right.

First she separates the monthly list of volunteers into two groups, one for Sun City Center and one for Kings Point. Then she makes each a monthly schedule, two people to a car, each carrying a hot-bag with 10 meals in it and 10 bagged lunches every day.

“The people who volunteer for this job need to be strong enough to carry the bags and be  able to drive,” she said. “There are some who want to help, but can’t walk well carrying the heavy bags. Maybe they use a cane or walker. They can still help in some other way.”

The procedure for delivery is that everyone assigned to a particular day shows up at South Bay Hospital’s cafeteria at exactly 3:20 p.m.

By that time, Chef Joel Meyers has handed the meals to Omar Hyssain, who takes them to Smoker’s table where the bags that keep them hot have been wiped clean and laid out.
Hyssain divides the meals and puts them into the hot-bags according to Smoker’s direction.

They service anywhere between 6 and 25 people a day.

“Weekends are usually light days,” Smoker said. “I don’t know why.”

Perhaps family members or friends see to the needs of these people on weekends, she said.

The volunteers of the day pick up their hot bags of 10 full meals and a separate bag lunch for each person on their delivery list.

“Sometimes we’re the only person they interact with all day,” said Margaret Vaske. “It makes you feel really good when they say how much they appreciate it.”

Sometimes Smoker takes off to go to Fort Pierce to see her daughter Joanne Frey or to be with her son, Fred Bentley in Virginia.

“Aside from that, I go in every day. I really enjoy it,” Smoker said.

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