Libba Jaco was one of the very first volunteers to deliver Mobile Meals in Knoxville in December 1971. She served faithfully in this capacity for 15 years. Then she was hired as the Program Volunteer Coordinator and worked for 10 more years before her retirement.
Since retirement, she has really gone to work! A gracious, compassionate Libba Jaco dishes out hugs and cheery greetings along with hot, nutritious meals to the 25 Great Generation individuals on her Mobile Meals route. You would never guess this volunteer extraordinaire is 80-years-old herself and that 26,000 Mobile Meals have passed through her caring hands in the past 15 years since she retired at age 65! Nor would you guess that she has driven 32,500 miles in North Knoxville delivering Mobile Meals! This is just one of many endeavors that Libba pursues in doing "whatever it takes to help our frail, homebound seniors who are struggling to maintain their independence in their own homes."
In 1997, Mobile Meals had a waiting list of more than 200 individuals who desperately needed meals but could not be served because of lack of funds. Libba engaged a group of concerned volunteers who met with staff to brainstorm ways to eliminate the waiting list. The result was a long-term fund raising effort, Adopt A Senior Program, which raised $131,068 the first year. These funds allowed the program to serve 187 persons that otherwise would not have been served. This team of volunteers developed into Friends of Mobile Meals, an advisory board for the program. She still continues to serve on the FOMM Advisory Board.
In 2002, Libba's Mobile Meals route was bulging at the seams! When she learned that all the North Knoxville routes were taking two to three hours to deliver because of lack of volunteers, she immediately initiated a campaign in her church to get a corps of volunteers to deliver a brand new route. She was successful! On Aug. 2, 2002, the St. Paul United Methodist Church seniors began delivering Mobile Meals. They have consistently delivered over five years without missing a day, thanks to Libba's leadership as volunteer coordinator Libba's zest for life and service, particularly the vulnerable elderly, encompasses her entire community.
Observing that many of the seniors on her Mobile Meals route were hungry on the weekend, she sought a remedy to this situation. She supported the formation of Fountain City Ministries, a consortium of ten churches jointly addressing social needs. She became a member of the board of directors, representing her church, St. Paul United Methodist. As the board assessed the concerns of their community, hunger was recognized as a major issue. While a food pantry was begun and two Saturdays a year were set aside to serve special needs of all age groups, Libba continued to advocate for seniors' needs of meals on the weekends. The board responded by pursuing a plan to implement a permanent weekend service of meals.
Fountain City Ministries applied for a grant from the Knoxville Leadership Foundation to provide the meals. A $10,000 grant was received, policy and procedures were established with the Mobile Meals program and weekend meals for five Mobile Meals routes in the Fountain City/Halls area were born! The first year was such a success that the board has continued to raise funds and have purchased and delivered weekend meals for four years. Their work has served as a catalyst for other churches in different areas to include weekend meals for seniors in their "In As Much" programs.
Currently, Libba is still an active FCM board member, serving on the "Special Needs Committee", who assist families who have lost jobs or cannot work, and the impoverished elderly. Her expertise as a counselor (having completed extensive training with the Contact Program where she volunteered for many years) is vital to this work.
Since retiring, Libba has also served on her church mission board and was instrumental in bringing a couple and their two children from Bosnia and sponsoring them for one year. She was a key person in establishing the Beverly Acres Citizens Association that includes 110 families. She served as president of the group that provides oversight for homeowners in her community. Always active in her church, having served in "every office imaginable" in the women's group and currently serving as chairman of the Least Coin committee, she has chosen to "slow down" a little this year since arthritis has compromised her activity. She decided to give up teaching a Sunday School class and Bible Studies group, singing in the choir and being Lay Leader for three years. However, she continues to be active in Church Women United, responsible for the telephone prayer chain and serves on the National Church Development team.
Libba's focus and ability to mobilize many to benefit the social problems in her community, does not diminish her sense of compassion in evaluating and addressing individual needs that present themselves on a daily basis. Routinely on her Mobile Meals route, she gets mail and newspapers, cleans up spills, takes out garbage and helps individuals whose shaky hands cannot hold the milk carton. She has repaired a broken door handle, located an air conditioner, purchased and installed a window fan, bought groceries when refrigerators were empty, maintains a path through a wooded yard and even provided a hat for a gentleman who insists on wearing it all the time (his old one was tattered and torn!) and presented a shiny deck of cards to a lady whose "solitaire cards" were almost unreadable.
She has summoned emergency help for a lady who had fallen from her wheelchair and a lady who was too weak to even make a phone call. Recently, she wouldn't give up seeking resources for a gentleman who refused to go to the hospital with a gangrenous leg. With her persistence, adequate help was found and he was admitted to the hospital. As long as a senior needs help, Libba will not give up!
What does she do in her spare time? Libba is a member of the Ossoli Circle, a federated women's club, that supports many help agencies such as Boys and Girls Clubs, Serenity Shelter for Women, Friends of Literacy, Heifer International, Inter Faith Health Clinic, Mission of Hope, Salvation Army, Volunteer Ministry Center and Wesley House Community Center. Currently, she is the co-chairman for membership.
And, what does she do in the evenings at home? She enjoys curling up in her favorite chair, reading a good book and spending time with her husband of 56 years, Ben! (She often recruits him to assist her in her volunteer efforts. Delivering meals is a favorite for both of them! They also follow an exercise program to keep fit and help in combating Libba's arthritis.) The love of her life surprised her with a very meaningful gift on April 13th, 2008, her 80th Birthday. Ben presented her with a special card from the Mobile Meals Program stating that he had provided 80 meals in her honor! Smiling through tears, she was congratulated by her two sons and daughter-in-laws and six grandchildren! She stated, "I am blessed. I am not ashamed of my age. I earned every year of it!" For Libba Jaco, her golden years have been active, happy and serving others! It has been my privilege to work with her for 15 years as volunteer coordinator for Mobile Meals. She exemplifies the heart of a compassionate volunteer and personifies the role of a "Senior Advocate". I enthusiastically nominate Libba Jaco to receive the Covenant Health for 2008 Senior Advocate Award.