Jeff Edwards never intended to work in the nonprofit world, but found himself there anyway. He’s now leading the Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels organization after spending the previous three years as the director of the Corbin Senior Center.
Edwards is from Memphis, Tennessee. “I started working in the nonprofit world with a job with Youth Villages right after college,” he said. “It was simple. I needed to pay my student loans and they were the first to offer me a job.”
That job would transform his life in more ways than one. He met his future wife, Spokane native Jennifer Johnson. He married her and worked his way up to assistant director of the foster care and adoption program before the couple decided to move to Spokane.
“She always wanted to come back home,” he said.
Edwards worked as a freelance writer for a year before taking the position at the Corbin Senior Center.
“I really felt like I could make a contribution,” he said.
He heard about the Greater Spokane Meals on Wheels position last summer and saw it as another way to make a difference in the community. The organization prepares about 1,200 meals a day served at its 12 meal sites around Spokane County and delivered to homebound seniors. It serves seniors in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Deer Park, Airway Heights, Cheney, Liberty Lake, Rockford, Fairfield and unincorporated areas of Spokane County. It receives half its funding from Aging and Long-Term Care of Eastern Washington and the other half from community donations.
Edwards said he was intrigued by the position, but wasn’t sure about making the move from the Corbin Senior Center at first.
“It was a great community of seniors,” he said. “I really loved my job and I wasn’t looking to leave.”
Edwards said he took the job because he knows there will be even more need for the services the organization provides in the future. He said the senior population is expected to grow significantly in the next 10 years.
“That’s what the stats are saying,” he said. “The silver tsunami is what they call it. As a county we need to get ready for that.”
Last summer was also when a criminal case involving the organization’s former bookkeeper was wrapping up. Edwards took the job in September, the same month Michelle “Susan” Ferrell was sentenced to three years in prison for stealing money from the organization and failing to file proper tax returns for the nonprofit.
Edwards said that case didn’t deter him and said the nonprofit organization added stringent accounting practices before he was hired.
“The last incidence of fraud was probably two years ago,” he said. “We were blessed to get full restitution.”
He said the mission of the organization is to make sure that seniors who need food can eat and that continued despite the fraud case.
“I think the thing that impressed me most is the mission never suffered,” he said. “It just impressed on me that this was a resilient organization.”
Edwards said he’s enjoying his new position.
“We’ve got a good core group of dedicated staff,” he said. “We’ve got people who have been volunteers for decades.”
He said many people don’t understand Greater Spokane Meals on Wheels’ service area overlaps with the service area of Meals on Wheels Spokane, but they are separate organizations.
“We don’t have a segregated area,” he said.
Another common misconception is that there is a waiting list.
“We don’t have a wait list,” he said. “If you call us on Monday, we can start serving you on Tuesday.”
The volunteers have an important social role to play as well, chatting with the seniors and checking on their welfare while they deliver lunch.
“For a lot of seniors that may be the only meal they eat that day and the only social interaction they get that day,” he said. “It’s a safety check in on seniors. There’s been cases where seniors have fallen and not been able to get up.”
The meals the organization’s 250 volunteers deliver every Monday through Friday are hot and ready to eat. “We make the meals fresh in our kitchen every morning,” he said.
Seniors who request it can receive frozen meals during the week to heat up and eat on the weekend. Seniors in more rural areas might get a couple of deliveries of frozen meals a week because there aren’t enough volunteers to make those runs every day, Edwards said.
Most of the seniors the organization serves spent their lives taking care of others and Edwards says now it’s time for them to be cared for.
“It’s our turn to give back to them,” he said.
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