Three Decades of Delivering Meals on Wheels

Duke faculty and staff continue a tradition from the early 80s

Richard Schmalbeck has been part of a volunteer team delivering Meals on Wheels for nearly three decades. Photo by Marsha A. Green.

Richard Schmalbeck pulled up to a small house in Durham in his black sedan. He hopped out, dug into a red cooler in the back seat and pulled out a warm container with meatloaf, broccoli and succotash.

Melinda Vaughn, who accompanied him in the passenger seat, reached into another cooler for a bag with an apple, slice of bread, lemon pudding and half-pint of milk. Gathering the food and The Herald-Sun newspaper, Vaughn walked to the house and rang the doorbell. "Here's your meal for today," Vaughn said as an elderly woman answered the door. "Hope you enjoy it."

A similar scene repeated seven more times as Schmalbeck and Vaughn drove "Route B" for Meals on Wheels of Durham, keeping alive a volunteer tradition started at the Duke Law School in the early 1980s by professors Charles Clotfelter and Christopher Schroeder.

For three decades, faculty and staff from the school, along with colleagues from other schools, have delivered meals to the needy in Durham every Friday except holiday weekends.

"I like Meals on Wheels because I know it provides a daily contact with the outside world for these people," said Schmalbeck, a professor of law who began delivering meals with the volunteer team in 1983.

Vaughn, the executive director for communications and events at the Law School, said Schmalbeck knows the route so well that he rarely needs the addresses read to him.

"He's done this route so many times he doesn't have to look at the map," Vaughn said. "It makes it very fast, and I've learned to wear comfortable walking shoes so I can keep up the pace."

Schmalbeck enjoys keeping the tradition alive and organizes the weekly schedule to pair team members in different combinations as much as schedules allow.

"One of the attractions is the chance to spend an hour in conversation with a colleague," Schmalbeck said. But the real attraction is helping those in need.

"We don't spend a lot of time with them, but if the door isn't answered, we report it back to Meals on Wheels so someone can investigate," Schmalbeck said. "It's good to know that we are helping them stay connected."

Current members of the Law School Meals on Wheels team are: John Aldrich, Kate Bartlett, Duncan Beale, Sara Beale, Guy-Uriel Charles, Charles Clotfelter, Melanie Dunshee, Gael Hallenbeck, Theresa Newman, Richard Schmalbeck, Chris Schroeder and Melinda Vaughn.