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Jim Hemig: Unsung community heroes

Jim Hemig Publisher The Union
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

“I do it because it makes me feel good. It feeds me. I do it for me,” Kathy Hillis told me while we quietly zipped around in her red Prius delivering hot meals to homebound seniors in Alta Sierra.

Kathy is just one of a small group providing daily, healthy and freshly cooked meals through the Meals on Wheels program in western Nevada County. She may do it for her own enrichment, but it’s the people she helps who truly receive the benefit.

I witnessed this firsthand helping deliver the meals, and that day’s newspaper, to the folks on her route. Kathy has volunteered more than six years and has met a lot of people.



I saw the smiles and heard the “thank yous” as we delivered Tuesday’s lunch.

Considering the food, social benefits and safety checks these drivers provide, I think of these good people as unsung heroes in our community. This small group of 45 regular and 10 substitute drivers delivers about 38,000 meals a year. We need to thank them and appreciate their quiet contributions.

The smiles made the entire two-hour tour worth it. Even though each stop was short, I could tell these visits were likely the highlight in these elderly folks’ day.




It was nice tagging along with Kathy. We met a year ago at her store, Mountain Pastimes Fun and Games, in Nevada City. She is very busy as the owner of a local business.

She has also volunteered for many other nonprofits. She has given a lot to the community since moving here 27 years ago.

When I asked what keeps her driving each week, she said, “I feel privileged to have three meals a day and a nice house.”

I could see by the expression on her face giving back is in her nature.

Kathy and the rest of the Meals on Wheels team are currently organized into nine routes and deliver lunch meals to about 150 people Monday through Friday.

Each route is about two hours and the temperature of the meals is closely monitored before, during and at the end of the delivery.

In western Nevada County our local Meals on Wheels program is operated by Gold Country Community Services (GCCS), a nonprofit organization established in 1976.

In those six-plus years volunteering for GCCS and Meals on Wheels, Kathy has seen people on her route come and go.

“New people are added, and some move to assisted living and others pass away,” she said with care and concern.

This compassion goes beyond delivering food. The daily check-ins provide people with a little social interaction. They also help keep tabs on them.

If someone doesn’t answer the door when the food arrives, that is noted and communicated back to the GCCS staff and follow-up calls can be made.

Kathy and I even sat in her red hybrid and made a call from just outside a gated house until we could locate our intended customer.

This personal connection goes beyond food, too. With the fire in Grass Valley Monday, GCCS executive director, Sandy “Jake” Jacobson told me they knew three people near Bennett Street they were concerned about.

Jake knew these people didn’t have good mobility or a way to get out of the area if the fire threatened their homes.

She and her team contacted the sheriff, and an officer was prepared to knock on doors if the fire drew near.

Considering the food, social benefits and safety checks these drivers provide, I think of these good people as unsung heroes in our community.

This small group of 45 regular and 10 substitute drivers deliver about 38,000 meals a year. We need to thank them and appreciate their quiet contributions.

After all the deliveries were made, Kathy, Jake and I discussed the current state of Meals on Wheels across the nation and in our small community.

Jake mentioned that just down the hill in Sacramento they have fully converted to frozen meal delivery. Their drivers don’t knock on doors either. The 4,600 daily meals in the greater Sacramento area are left on doorsteps frozen.

The good folks at GCCS are endeavoring to have higher standards, maintain personal contact and provide hot meals when the rest of the region is switching to reduced services.

But this comes with a cost, both of money and volunteers. Jake mentioned they are in need of additional drivers, and funding is always a concern.

To help continue the services offered, GCCS will be hosting their first “End of Summer Bash,” a fundraising event for the benefit of Meals on Wheels and other critical GCCS programs.

The event will be held 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at Rincon del Rio, a planned senior living community in South County.

Tickets are $75 per person and include a lavish dinner prepared by Rincon del Rio, wines from Nevada City Winery, margaritas and a full bar, along with live entertainment and other fun activities.

All proceeds will go toward helping GCCS continue to provide critical programs and services to Nevada County seniors in need. The event will be fun with great food, drinks and entertainment for all who attend.

For information about the “End of Summer Bash” please visit http://www.goldcountryservices.org or call the GCCS office at (530) 273-4961.

To contact Publisher Jim Hemig, email jhemig@theunion.com or call 530-477-4299.


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