Ashley Coburn ’08, Amy Drown Garfield ’98, and Diane Sylvain Coburn ’80
Today’s SJA Shining Stars are Ashley Coburn ’08, Amy Drown Garfield ’98, and Diane Sylvain Coburn ’80. They are the employees of St. Johnsbury Meals on Wheels and Mealsite, providing a crucial program to provide food security for older people in our community.
Diane is the Director of St. Johnsbury Meals on Wheels and Mealsite (MOW). While not one to like the spotlight, she welcomed the opportunity to recognize her team, volunteers, and other supporters of their program. When interviewed about their service, one word kept coming up over and over again – incredible!
It’s no wonder, they have overcome challenges related to new protocols as well as an increase in demand that was only possible because of incredible passion, dedication and support. Her gratitude for all involved shined through the entire conversation!
MOW currently has 3 paid employees and 25 volunteers. They provide home delivered meals to seniors in the community who face food insecurity – to those unable to prepare their own meals, to receive the proper nutrition they need, due to poor health, or based on financial need or inability to get to a store. These meals are provided to the St. Johnsbury area as well as to Gilman, Vermont (due to the closure of their meals program). Most meals are delivered to people’s homes by volunteers. Recipients can receive hot meals five days a week with the option for frozen meals for the weekend if needed. The delivery also provides an important safety and well-being check.
Demand for the service has increased by 37% compared to pre-pandemic service. In April, May and June this meant around 4,000-4,500 meals per month with 200 served daily during the peak of the pandemic. In April, the NEK Council on Aging (with community support) assisted by providing the meals for 2 weeks in April, when they had to close down their location at the St. Johnsbury House due to concerns of a resident having COVID-19. Many seniors opted to self-isolate to protect themselves during the pandemic and this added to the demand. The meal delivery service was a tremendous help to keep a vulnerable population of our community safe.
Diane was pleased to recognize Ashley and Amy for their hard work in stepping up to provide more meals than ever before. She shared that it truly takes great teamwork to make this all happen, and this program is possible because of their work.
Ashley is the Head Cook and has been with the program for 12 years. She prepares homecooked meals – often with fresh fruits and vegetables. Diane shared, “Ashley is an incredible lead person in the kitchen. I am blessed. She is able to cook 250-300 meals a day and make it taste good. You have to have talent to do that! She is just incredible – organized in the kitchen and able to produce meals that taste good, look good and are nutritional. Everyone is pleased with the meals.”
Amy is the Assistant Cook. She has been with the program for 3 years. Diane shared, “Amy has incredible passion for the work they do and is dedicated to the service we provide. She is outstanding and follows along to assist with whatever is needed in the kitchen.”
Diane is also thankful for the team of volunteers. With some of her regular volunteers in higher risk groups, she was concerned about not having enough people to deliver meals. She shared, “Volunteers were incredible when the pandemic hit. People reached out wanting to help. I couldn’t believe how many people stepped up and wanted to deliver meals. It’s worked out fabulous!”
The NEK Council on Aging has provided wonderful background support and shared resources to help them access training, as well as hand sanitizer when they ran out. They provide funding to MOW through the Older Americans Act and work closely with all of the NEK Meals on Wheels program. Laura Valcour, Director of Nutrition and Wellness at the NEK Council on Aging, has worked closely with Diane. She couldn’t speak highly enough about her:
Diane is an exemplary mealsite manager. With over 20 years skillfully coordinating the home delivered meal program at the St. Johnsbury House, Diane does not miss a beat whether she’s coordinating multiple routes, checking in to make sure a participant’s needs are met, or going out of her way to make a delivery herself. Her compassion and dedication to her community is commendable.
Diane ensured that she and the entire mealsite staff completed the COVID-19 Safety Training provided by the State of Vermont. In addition, following CDC and Vermont Department of Health guidelines, Diane is continually monitoring to make sure procedures requiring social distancing, handwashing, face covering, and sanitizing is maintained throughout the day.
Diane has a heart of gold—infinite compassion for others. What a gift she is to all she touches.
Last but not least, Diane highlighted the community support they received. Thank you to the AutoSaver Group, Passumpsic Bank, the NEK Council on Aging, Vermont Community Foundation, and community individuals for their support of this important program. Diane says, “The community is just fabulous!”
We thank Diane, Ashley, and Amy for exemplifying what it means to be a Shining Star and for sharing their work with us. You all are a true example of how passion, dedication, and community can make a difference in keeping members of our community safe and fed!