OUR VOLUNTEERS Love on wheels: Two women share food and friendship with Meridian

Erin Kelly / The Meridian Star

Janet Barham, a volunteer for Meals on Wheels, prepares a bag of food for delivery in Meridian, Mississippi.

MERIDIAN, Miss. – Janet Barham moves with a purpose, loading plastic bags with food from the coolers in her trunk.

She checks to make sure everything's in place – a tray of food, a banana, bread, a carton of milk. Repeat.

On a recent morning, the 74-year-old volunteer will do this 19 times and deliver the meals to homes across Meridian, Mississippi in less than three hours.

As always, there’s a greeting card to go with each meal.

This week, it comes with Thanksgiving napkins and a special holiday greeting: “Thinking warm thoughts of you and hoping you’ll have a very happy Thanksgiving. Love, Janet and June.”

OUR VOLUNTEERS Love on wheels: Two women share food and friendship with Meridian

Erin Kelly / The Meridian Star

Longtime friends Janet Barham and June Estes deliver meals across Meridian, Mississippi several times a month together, as Meals on Wheels volunteers. 

June Estes, 82, is a fellow retired school teacher and a friend from church Barham has known at least 20 years.

“She is a volunteer in love, I can tell you that,” Barham says. “She’s always doing things for people.”

Four times a month, Barham picks up Estes at home and they ride through the city, volunteering for Meals on Wheels.

They’ve delivered meals together for close to a decade and know the addresses on their list by heart.

More than that, they know the faces and stories of the people waiting behind the front door. 

“This opportunity came up and I just decided it was something I wanted to do because I love helping people,” Estes says.

A hula dancer figurine bobbles on Barham’s console, below an air freshener that reads, “Be happy.”

OUR VOLUNTEERS Love on wheels: Two women share food and friendship with Meridian

Erin Kelly / The Meridian Star

Janet Barham, a Meals on Wheels volunteer, hugs George Roberts after delivering his meal in Meridian, Mississippi.

Their first stop is the home of George Roberts.

“They got something nice to say and that’s wonderful…more than food,” Roberts says, after receiving his lunch delivery. “The spirit that they have, it’s uplifting.”

Barham and Roberts hug, and just before they say good bye, Estes asks Roberts, “You need a 2020 calendar?”

“See what I’m talking about?” Roberts says as he accepts.

The two women pull up to the home of Friddie Alford, known for giving great hugs.

Estes waits in the car and Barham brings the food to the door.

Alford is beaming.

“She’s my heart and joy,” she says.

In the last year, Barham and Estes have lost three people on their delivery list. 

One man, who loved the Meridian High School Wildcats, would get a custom greeting with his meal.

The women would yell out, “Go Wildcats!” and shake a blue and white pom pom, waiting for him to echo the cheer as he approached the door.

“Sometimes, just a smile is what they need or just to know that there is somebody that cares,” Barham says.

Barham, who also serves food at L.O.V.E.’s Kitchen, which prepares free meals for those in need, and helps children learn to read through her church, considers the work to be a blessing.

“The only thing that I wanted people to really know is I don’t do it because I have to do it, but it’s something that is a blessing and my life has been so blessed. It’s an opportunity to pass it on to others,” she says.

Meridian City Council member Fannie Johnson, who serves as the executive director of L.O.V.E.'s Kitchen, has known Barham for about five years. 

“She has a heart of gold and she is willing to help wherever help is needed and she always does it with a smile,” she says.

In December, Barham and Estes will continue their work.

Their deliveries will likely include a special touch, like holiday cards with candy canes.

“We’re just over enthusiastic about our job,” Estes says cheerfully. “Everybody needs to get involved in something, to pick out what their favorite thing is or their favorite charity and get involved because it means more to the people that are doing it than it does to the ones you do it for.”

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