Meals on Wheels clients received a special surprise along with their meals when community leaders and local celebrities helped with delivery on Tuesday.

March with Meals on Wheels is an annual event in which elected officials, community champions and local celebrities help deliver meals, according to Zoe Lawhorn, vice president of development and public relations for the nonprofit organization.

Tyler Mayor Martin Heines was one of more than 30 volunteers who dispersed throughout the community to get to know Meals On Wheels clients.

“This is a way for people to use their notoriety, their fame within the community, to spotlight Meals on Wheels,” Mrs. Lawhorn said. “We usually get lots of real encouraging feedback from our people, and many of them come on (as volunteers) to deliver meals after this experience.”

Heines said he first began working with the organization years ago, doing deliveries with his mother. He said the most important aspect of the organization is the relationships created.

“It’s very touching, because a lot of these folks, it’s important to have that human contact during the day,” Heines said. “When I’ve been out in the past, the people that are delivering those meals are building those relationships. It’s not just a hot meal; it’s that compassion.”

The nonprofit agency delivers meals to more than 3,000 people in 30 communities across six East Texas counties. Mrs. Lawhorn said the relationships volunteers build with the meal recipients help enrich the clients' lives.

“We make sure they have something to eat, make sure they have a daily visit from a friendly person who can make them feel like someone is thinking about them and cares. In doing all of that, we’re able to just check on their safety and monitor their well-being,” she said. “Just by doing those three simple things, we’re able to help people continue living independently. It’s more than just a meal.”

Heines spent the morning getting to know clients and sharing stories with them. From talking about his role in the community to showing off pictures of his family, the deliveries became more than just dropping off food.

“It’s the absolutely most rewarding feeling that you gain as an individual when you go out. I would encourage people to get a set route and build those relationships,” he said.

Lawhorn said the event "stands for everything that is important in our community."

"That is neighbors serving neighbors," she said. "Community people volunteering to help others that need the help. That’s what makes Tyler stand out as a community, how much we care about our neighbors.”

Heines hopes the publicity will encourage others to consider volunteering with Meals on Wheels.

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