Bob Starkes spends most Wednesdays on the road and on a mission. He picks up as many as 16 meals at Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church in Raleigh to distribute to people on his Meals on Wheels route.
“By the time I get these things to the last house, it's still a hot meal,” he said on a recent pick-up.
In April, he will have been volunteering with the agency 13 years.
“He spends more time with the people than any of my other carriers, and you can tell they love him. That's part of the business. The people need to know that somebody cares about them,” said Gary Ingalls, the Meals on Wheels site coordinator at Saint Andrews Presbyterian.
Starkes spent 30 years as an engineer, so even his approach to volunteering was methodical.
He took an early retirement in 1999.
“I knew what I wanted to do,” he said.
Starkes wanted to get into human services, which led him to the United Way of the Greater Triangle, where he worked for a decade.
As director of campaign operations, he was exposed to community needs.
“On a day-to-day basis, there are so many needs right here locally and people just don't even know it,” he said.
Starkes did some soul-searching and developed a personal mission statement, which continues to drive him to this day. He focuses on three things – work in an area that benefits society, take care of family members and support the church.
He retired from the United Way three years ago and continues his volunteer work, delivering food to the homes of those in need.
“I feel great going in. I feel better going out, but sometimes the situations that people are in are just bad situations,” he said.
Ada Braswell is on his route and is in a good situation, having a nurse tech by her side. She said she appreciates Starkes' visits.
“It's a treasure to have someone bring you food that's done and all, especially when you get so that you can't do very much cooking,” she said.
Starkes knows he's delivering much more than a meal.
“There are some people I see and I am the only person they see in the run of the day. Imagine that. I'm it. I'm the highlight of somebody's day?” he said.
Starkes also takes seniors from his church out to lunch once a month.
On Thursdays, he drives for the Interfaith Food Shuttle. His wife used to do the route with him before injuring herself in a fall several years ago. She still helps, though, by baking cakes for her husband to take the Meals on Wheels recipients on their birthdays.
When he's not volunteering, the couple spends as much time as possible with their grandkids.