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Volunteers nourish the body and the spirit

Uncertainty ruled when Veronica Young knocked on the door of a little white house on Kentucky Avenue in northeast Tampa six years ago.

As she stood waiting with a nutritious lunch, Young thought it was just another stop on her Meals on Wheels of Tampa delivery route. She had no idea the two strangers — a little white-haired woman and a big brown dog — awaiting on the other side would grow to shape her life.

"I didn't realize at that time it was going to be the beginning of a really beautiful friendship," said Young, the evening on-air personality for WQYK-99.5 FM.

Myrtle Baker invited Young in, assuring her that Lucky, her lovable hound, wouldn't hurt a flea. Soon, the weekly visits became routine. Baker always offering warm conversation, Lucky always begging for Young's attention.

Sometimes Baker would share stories about her work in downtown Tampa building where she changed out the elevator "Muzak," which was sort of like Young's job as a DJ.

Sometimes they just sat and watched The Price Is Right.

"Sometimes it was nothing that was a big deal," Young said. "She would always save the Publix ad for me because she knows I love shopping at Publix. We would always talk about the buy one, get one free offers. Crystal Light is our favorite, by the way."

Week after week, Young shared stories about her "crazy, busy life," and week after week, Baker comforted her by saying, "Well, honey, make sure you get some rest."

When Young married local singer Jason Young, Baker gave her some recipe magazines. Young jokes that Jason wishes she would use the recipes more often.

Later, Jason and Veronica attended Baker's birthday celebration. Young wouldn't reveal Baker's exact age, choosing only to call it a milestone celebration.

Instinctively, they began gauging each other's moods and emotions.

"Every time I open the door, I can always tell exactly how she's feeling by the look on her face. Sometimes she's not feeling that well and she tries to hide it, but there's no way she can do it.

"The cool thing is that's how her relationship with me is. If I open up the door, she can always tell if I'm having a good day. We're always there leaning on each other. It's so special to have a friend like that."

Young shared this story at a recent fundraising breakfast for Meals on Wheels (mealsonwheelstampa.com). The relationship perfectly illustrates how the organization's 500-plus daily meals affect the community.

As executive director Steve King likes to say, Meals on Wheels nourishes the body, enriches the soul and strengthens the community. And it's looking to do more.

Even though it's operating on a lean budget of $1.3 million, King hopes to launch a pilot program that would provide a second meal for recipients — a simple breakfast. Greater funding would help.

It's meals, but it's also memories. Baker's dog recently passed away, and Young remembers trying to be strong for her the first visit after Lucky's death.

"I tried my best to hold back the tears, and I just couldn't. And she wrapped her arms around me and she said, 'Well now, honey, I knew you loved him just like a regular member of the family.' "

Baker no longer asks Young to sit and join her. When you're family, it's a given.

That's all I'm saying.

Volunteers nourish the body and the spirit 03/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 10:00pm]
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