Since she was a little girl in Tulsa, Oklahoma, helping people who needed and deserved a hot, nutritious meal has been a passion for SILS alumna, Stacey Yusko (MSLS ‘03). She first became involved with the Meals on Wheels program as a child when her mom was a volunteer for the program. Throughout the years, Yusko continued to help with Meals on Wheels in each location in which she lived, and when she arrived in Chapel Hill in 1998, this was the program she sought out.
The Meals on Wheels of Chapel Hill-Carrboro provides meals and companionship to those who are shut-in, which are primarily the elderly, disabled and those who are suffering or recovering from illness. The goal of the program is to “nourish the bodies and spirits of the homebound with a balanced meal and the human connection they need to help them live independently.”
Quality meals, volunteers, partners and clients are all important and vital pieces of the Meals on Wheels program. For those who are homebound, in addition to delivering their food for the day, the volunteer from Meals on Wheels is sometimes their only connection to the outside world.
There have been times when a volunteer has literally saved a life when arriving at a location.
Yusko became the director in 2009 and currently leads the program that serves 130 meals daily. There are over 150 volunteers – dedicated bakers, drivers and helpers – and a dozen routes that serve clients. As director, she is responsible for interviewing potential clients, constructing the routes, securing the meals and the in-kind donations from partners such as Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Harris Teeter and Starbucks.
“We couldn’t do anything without the support and efforts of our volunteers,” said Yusko. “The Meals on Wheels Board members contribute time and effort because there is essentially no staff. Yusko and a bookkeeper are the only part-time employees.
“The best part of the job is feeling like you have helped someone stay independent in their own home, provided contact with the outside world and recognized a person as someone who has led a full and productive life that should be respected and treated with dignity,” said Yusko. “The most challenging part of the job is the fundraising.”
The program, which has more than doubled in size in less than four years, receives no state or federal funding, so fundraising is imperative to the success of Meals on Wheels. United Way and grants provide a large amount of the funding received, but half of the donations are from individuals. The clients pay on a sliding scale based on their ability to pay, and no one in need is turned away due to lack of money.
“We are dedicated to serving everyone who qualifies, and we do not want to have a waiting list for what we feel are essential services,” said Yusko. “That means we add new routes as demand dictates.”
Food is not the only thing delivered to clients of the Meals on Wheels program. Newspapers are donated by The Herald Sun, place mats and cards are created and donated from local school children and most recently, BookHarvest has begun to contribute books that are sent to clients.
“Our partnership with BookHarvest lets me finally be a librarian!” said Yusko. “They make a monthly donation of books and we send them to our clients. We now have a bookshelf that is overflowing as clients and volunteers send in their own donations!”
“Stacey is one of those cherished people who see it as a privilege – not a duty – to help others,” said Dr. Brian Sturm, Yusko’s student advisor when she was at SILS. “Her master’s research addressed the information and reading interests of boys in North Carolina, and it showed both her careful attention to detail and her tenacious commitment to the underserved. I’m thrilled that Stacey has developed a partnership with BookHarvest, as she has the heart and soul of a librarian, and this collaboration allows her to merge her service mentality with the books and information she has always wanted to share.”
Her love of reading and desire to serve are just two of the reasons she chose the School of Information and Library Science for her master’s degree.
“I think libraries have always been my favorite place to be, and everywhere I have ever gone I always had a book with me,” said Yusko. “To me, SILS was like heaven. A chance to learn from others who love books and reading as much as I did was wonderful.”Just as her contributions to the Meals on Wheels program have been meaningful and significant, Stacey and her husband Mark have also made meaningful and significant contributions to SILS.
The couple has provided a major gift that has benefited students and innovative School services. Their unrestricted gift has afforded support for the School’s strongest students involved in the Carolina Technology Associates (CaTA) – a program that provides work-place settings for students to gain first-hand experience that enriches their education through clinical study or practice. The Yuskos’ gift also provides support for the LifeTime Library project, an innovative and groundbreaking project that provides trusted storage space to students and alumni for their entire lives.
Master’s student Sandeep Avula is one of the students assigned to the LifeTime Library project who is also benefitting from the generosity of the Yuskos’ gift. For Avula, however, the support he receives means much more than gaining hands-on experience that he will use throughout his career.
“Mr. and Mrs. Yusko’s support has not just given me the freedom to dream, but has equipped me with the courage to act,” said Avula. “I am truly inspired by their act of giving, and one day I too shall do my part to help students realize their dreams.”
From an alumna who is making a real difference with real people in the communities she lives and serves, Stacey Yusko’s generous spirit and humble devotion to the things in which she believes is a model for others to follow. As far as her gift to the School, Yusko refers to the quality of the education she received.
“I just wanted to mark my gratitude for the excellent faculty and the academic enrichment I received.”