A 90-year-old man volunteers at least five days a week, as well as holidays, to deliver food to Largo's elderly in need.
By TERRI D. REEVES
Published January 15, 2004
[Times photo: Kinfay Moroti]
Meals on Wheels route coordinator Vern Rood, 90, left, and his assistant Michael Moore, center, say a prayer while delivering lunch to Cyril Bennett at his home Wednesday.
LARGO - Vern Rood is proud of the fact that, at 90, he can still drive, climb stairs, and, yes, have a girlfriend.
But perhaps his most important accomplishment now is what he does for others.
For the past 29 years, he has made sure that Largo's homebound seniors had a hot meal five days a week through the Neighborly Care Network's Meals on Wheels program. And, unlike most of us, the Largo resident takes no time off for holidays.
"I feel sorry for these people," he said Wednesday. "I like to eat a hot meal, and they do, too."
Although Neighborly Care Network volunteers bring an extra shelf-stable meal to clients the day before a holiday, Rood wanted to do more: give them hot food, a warm smile and, sometimes, a friendly hug during these special, and often lonely, times of the year.
So, on holidays such as Christmas, New Year's and - coming up next week - Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the enterprising senior orchestrates his own program. He collects donations from churches, temples, businesses and individuals; obtains food from food service providers; and organizes volunteers to deliver the meals to about 200 people in the Largo area.
"He is a walking angel," said Debra Shade, president and chief executive of Neighborly Care Network, a nonprofit organization based in St. Petersburg. The network serves elderly clients in Pinellas and Manatee counties.
"He is so compassionate and committed, I wish we had 100 Vern Roods," Shade said. "Unless he is dying, he will be there."
She acknowledged that the holiday meal program is not handled under the auspices of Neighborly Care Network but gave it her blessing, anyway.
Pat Hofstadter, the organization's volunteer recruitment manager, said Rood has volunteered with the organization - formerly Neighborly Senior Services - longer than anyone and is perhaps the oldest volunteer.
"He is fabulous," she said. "He staffs a number of routes for volunteers, attends all our meetings and pitches in whenever we need help, always with a smile. He is both a leader and a team player."
As a volunteer route coordinator, Rood often finds himself filling in for those volunteers who can't make it. While a normal volunteer route involves delivering meals to eight to 10 homes, Rood had to cover three routes Wednesday and serve 28 people.
"Anyone can do it," he said. "It just takes initiative and desire."
Rood, who attends Lakeview Baptist Church, attributes his strength to the Lord.
"I believe the Lord gives you the attitude and strength to do what you need to do," he said. "He does the work, and I get the credit."
He says he doesn't smoke or drink and eats reasonably well.
"I stay away from gravy and fried foods," he said.
He said he did 25 pushups a day until his hands began to hurt two years ago.
He was married for 61 years to Clara Rood, who died in 2002. The couple came here in 1974 from Minneapolis after he retired from Prudential.
Although his days are filled with volunteer work, his evenings are reserved for dinners with his lady friend, Margaret Solomon, 86.
"She cooks me dinners and we go to prayer meetings," he said. "She calls me Sweetie Pie."