Supporters of the North Area Meals on Wheels turned out in their finest for the organization’s fourth annual Spring Gala, held Friday, May 4 at the Doubletree Hotel in East Syracuse. The fundraiser included wine tasting, silent auction and numerous raffles. Guest speaker Yvonne Conte spoke about the value of humor in everyday life, while music was provided by Todd Hobin and his band.
“It’s wonderful. We have a really good turnout,” said Donna Barrett, executive director of NAMOW. “I can’t believe the generosity of all these people. Everyone’s very positive about tonight, and they know why they’re here.”
Among the community members and local dignitaries in attendance was Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle, who has spent much of her first term in the House of Representatives advocating for seniors.
“Meals on Wheels is such a great organization,” Buerkle said. “It provides our seniors with so many services. Ostensibly, it’s food. But that communication with another person, that contact, someone checking on them, someone giving them a scheduled portion of their day, and they give relief to family members. Family members know that Meals on Wheels is going to be there, so they give that comfort level. So there are so many benefits from the Meals on Wheels program, and it’s so important that we recognize that.”
Buerkle said NAMOW’s mission to end hunger by 2020 is an admirable one.
“Could there be a more noble mission in the United States of America? There’s no reason that anyone should be hungry in this country,” she said. “It really is a question of using our resources and using them wisely to make sure that monies get to the people who really need the services, who need the food and the programs. It’s just a great goal.”
In addition to raising money for the local Meals on Wheels chapter, the evening also honored longtime NAMOW volunteer Jim Baker. Baker started with the organization more than 25 years ago. He has served on the board of directors, as well as numerous NAMOW committees, and headed up numerous fundraisers.
“Jim is our go-to guy for anything that needs to be done regarding our facility,” said Shirley Singer, who gave a speech in Baker’s honor. “If he can’t fix it, which is rare, he gets the right person to get the job done… They say that in every successful organization – and we are – there is the right person at the right place at the right time. I believe this is especially true of Jim Baker at North Area Meals on Wheels. He exemplifies the true meaning of the word volunteerism on a daily basis.”
Barrett said the gala seemed the perfect opportunity to honor Baker.
“The community is here, and he’s part of our community,” she said. “A lot of people in the North Syracuse area know him very well. Paying tribute to him is long overdue, and we probably should have done it years ago. Better now than later.”
Barrett said Baker exemplifies the mission of North Area Meals on Wheels.
“When we say North Area Meals on Wheels, we think Jim Baker. He’s like the icon,” she said. “He used to come in every day with his hammer and tools and so on and fix whatever needed to be fixed, whether it be replacing a light bulb, fixing one of the pipes that was leaking, we’d call him.”
For his part, Baker accepted the honor humbly.
“This isn’t a one-person deal. It’s a many-person deal,” Baker said. “I really appreciate everything everyone has done.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.