At a time like this, with COVID-19 plunging the world into fear and threatening to push the budgets of many countries against the reef, one could easily feel completely at a loss as to how to face such a calamity. This event, literally never experienced on this scale in the lifetimes of anyone on the Earth today, can make one feel helpless, hopeless. But, even in the darkest times, we can turn to one of the greatest hearts of our, or any other era, Fred Rogers. Of all the deceptively wise things he said in his life, probably the most famous says, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”And while the axiom is comforting to be sure, it could be argued that an even better way to respond to COVID-19 than looking for the helpers is to be the helpers. And the wonderful people of Joe Momma’s Kitchen are embodying that idea.

When the virus hit and restaurants were ordered to close their dining rooms, owner Sara Hoskinson Sauls said she and her husband, with whom she manages the restaurant, tried to stay open with carry-outs. But then the stay-at-home order came, and Hoskinson Sauls, who is also a nurse, became concerned for senior citizens. She was worried that even if they could get to the restaurant, they were risking their health. “So we just decided to only serve the senior citizens. We posted we would offer them a $5 meal and we hoped we would find drivers to volunteer and bring that meal to their doorstep.”

Eric and Sara preparing meals for delivery

In a bit of a leap of faith, they announced that anyone who couldn’t pay should just say so and they would find a way to get the meal paid for. They didn’t know where the money would come from, but they didn’t have to worry. Once word got out what they were trying to do, money came rolling in. They’ve received enough to cover not just the meals of those who requested help, but all the meals they could make and deliver. “Every single meal has been paid for,” said Hoskinson Sauls. “We’ve received cards in the mail with $8 checks that state that’s all their budget will allow. And we’ve received huge donations from all kinds of big organizations. Like, Marietta Community Foundation, Kiwanis, Noon Lions, Welfare League, so many churches.” Having served nearly 3,700 meals, they still have enough money to cover over 800 meals and they continue to receive donations in the mail daily. “Every time we think we only have so many meals left, God shows up and we miraculously have more.”

We are delivering from Parkersburg to Watertown and every place in between.

But all those meals can’t get where they need to go without the help of a veritable army of volunteer drivers who deliver them. “We are delivering from Parkersburg to Watertown and every place in between.” And every route is driven by volunteers. Two such volunteers, who deliver to between 20 and 25 houses five days a week, are brother and sister Jack and Julia Zalmanek. Jack Drives while Julia gets out and makes the deliveries. “It makes me feel good,” Julia said, “to get out of the house and know I’m helping people.” While she didn’t know any of the folks she delivers to at the start, she said she is enjoying getting to know them.

Sara takes the temperature of volunteer, Ryan Bates

Carolyn Schuler, who lives in Vienna, has meals delivered Monday through Friday. Living alone and using a walker, Ms. Schuler is no longer able to cook for herself and her caretaker leaves at 1:00 pm each day, and, though her caretaker would make sure she would have something for dinner each day, microwaved leftovers pale in comparison to the delectable homemade meals she receives each day from Joe Momma’s. One day it may be an open-faced turkey or roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes. Another it could be spaghetti with meatballs or a homemade chicken salad sandwich with chips and a cookie. She heard about the service through her daughter who lives in Whipple and donates money to the service. “It’s wonderful what they’re doing,” Ms. Schuler said. “I’m grateful to them.”

It’s awesome to see them giving back when they’ve lost so much of their senior year.

Each weekday, volunteers crisscross the Mid-Ohio Valley delivering meals. “We have 13 routes, 8 alone in Marietta,” Hoskinson Sauls said. One of the things she loves is how the whole community has taken to this cause. “The young people are stepping up to drive, lots of seniors in high school. It’s awesome to see them giving back when they’ve lost so much of their senior year.”

Sara hands a box of meals to be delivered to volunteers Ethan and Carter Brooker, students at Fort Frye High School, who have been helping to deliver meals for three weeks.

And while all the routes have been covered every day for five weeks, there is always a need for more volunteers. Though they love what they are doing, Sara and her husband Eric obviously can’t do it alone. How can you help? Obviously, monetary donations are always welcome. But perhaps more pressing is the need for more volunteer drivers. If you are interested in helping in any way, either go to the restaurant’s Facebook page or email them at Joemommaskitchenmtta@gmail.com.

While it is easy to become so overwhelmed with fear and hopelessness in the face of a crisis this huge, the amazing people of Joe Momma’s Kitchen, along with their army of volunteers, show the perfect way to overcome those feelings. Rather than looking for the helpers, they jumped in and became the helpers. And in so doing, they are setting a tremendous example for us all.

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