She had just finished the first shift, assisting the kitchen crew cook turkey meals for Churchill County seniors. Linda Rupert could sit and relax until the crew began cooking Thanksgiving dinners for residents who visited the American Legion 16 hall later in the morning.
Thanksgiving morning, though, has a special meaning for Rupert, who has been preparing meals for 13 years.
“We’re taking care of people who need help, and they’re a lot of them,” she said. “One year, I was delivering a meal, and a lady who lived by herself grabbed my hand and wanted to talk.”
Rupert began to dab the tears.
“It’s a sad time for seniors,” she said.
Rupert’s husband volunteered to cook meals for 20 years before he died. Now, his wife has carried the tradition. Every year the American Legion post in Fallon solicits help from volunteers — sailors, Legion members and the community — to help cook, stuff the food into Styrofoam containers and then deliver them to scores of seniors as part of the Wheels on Meals program. The Churchill County Senior Center doesn’t deliver meals on Thanksgiving or Christmas, so that’s when the American Legion and its volunteers step in.
Mac McLean, a retired sailor who now works at Louie’s Home Center, has been a fixture behind the scenes for 20 years.
“We’re taking care of our own, especially with the seniors,” he said. “This is very important for Fallon.
Ensuring the volunteers are in place for Thanksgiving and Christmas is Lance McNeil, also a retired sailor, who has been organizing the holiday meals for years.
“We have 117 meals, up about 18 from last year he said. “They’re all from the senior center.”
While the senior center supplies the list of recipients on the Meals on Wheels program and the food containers, McNeil said the American Legion looks at this project as its major outreach programs of the year. He said the local post provides both volunteers and the money to buy the turkey and all the fixings.
“The Navy volunteers are really good,” he said. “A few of them also bring their families with them.”
Every season, McNeil and the post rely on sailors from the clinic and aviation ordnance who feel it’s a civic duty of theirs to help the Fallon community.
A02 Dennell Morris of Hampton, Va., has been a volunteer for three years.
“It’s worthwhile,” he said of helping with the holiday meals. “When I deliver the food, I get to see the smiles on their faces. Being a military town, we are here, and we care about the people.”
HM1 Merley Maltezo of Fayetteville, N.C., has been in Fallon for more than a year. Last year she volunteered at a Reno shelter, but this year she is volunteering closer to NAS Fallon.
Maltezo said she enjoys helping others.
“It kind of humbles you,” she said.
Likewise, another hospital corpsman, HM2 Andrew Johnson of Roswell, N.M., said helping the community is important for the sailors assigned to the Fallon air station.
AOC Albert Williams and his 14-year-old son Isaiah waited before they were called to help with the containers. This is the second go-around the aviation ordnanceman has been a volunteer. Williams was assigned to NAS Fallon from 1998-2002 and returned for another tour in September 2013.
“I love it … to help out whenever I can,” he said. “The association puts the information out for us, and we chose to volunteer. I did it last year. If I’m here next month and don’t go on leave, I will help out for Christmas.
Isaiah, a freshman at Churchill County High School, said he also likes to help.
Dave Santos, a retired Seabee, has made this a family affair. Not only does his wife (prior military) help but also the children. Although two of the children are now adults on their own, their 12-year-old daughter helped Thursday.
Santos said helping seniors has been rewarding:
“We started this to show our kids that there is more to them than themselves and to show them there are folks who have a need.”