Make a Meal, Making a Difference
By: Livia Zhao and Lynn Tao
When people look at a plate of pasta, they usually just see a nice dinner. But, for the clients of Meals of Wheels, they see the time, the effort, the goodwill, and most importantly, the people behind their food. One of these people is Stephanie Archer-Smith, who has made it her job to support the mission of Meals on Wheels as the Executive Director in Central Maryland. Meals on Wheels is a nation-wide nonprofit organization that delivers meals to people who are homebound due to age, disability, or illness; its mission is to optimize their clients’ health and improve their quality of life.
Archer-Smith graduated from the University of Baltimore with a degree in Psychology. Due to her extensive knowledge of people and society, she has spent her whole career working with many populations: children, single adults and families, and the elderly. Her work eventually led her to Meals on Wheels.
“My whole career I've worked in the Human Services arena, working with vulnerable and marginalized populations. And when there was an opportunity at Meals on Wheels, I sort of got through the whole human spectrum.”
As the Executive Director of an entire regional branch of Meals on Wheels, Archer-Smith oversees a wide variety of operations and ensures they are running smoothly. For one, since Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit organization, she not only has to perform the work to continue their mission of helping others but also has to help raise funds to keep the program operating.
“In order to raise money, you have to be able to outreach and market your organization; you have to be able to show the impact of that. And you have to be good stewards of that money, so you have to operate as efficiently as possible.”
But with great power comes great responsibility - responsibility for herself and her large team of staff. Because of her role, Archer-Smith consistently puts her managerial skills to good use by leading the staff. Moreover, it is her responsibility to work with the Board of Directors, people from the community who volunteer their time and expertise to provide insight for Meals on Wheels operations.
“Nonprofits don't have legal expertise in particular areas, so the board of directors brings their expertise to help govern the organization to ensure that we are being good stewards of the funds. I work with the board of directors to help them understand what we're doing and then take their advice back and integrate it into the work that we do.”
Due to circumstances caused by the rise of COVID-19, Archer-Smith has helped make some major changes to the operations of Meals on Wheels in order to keep the program running safely and effectively.
“We really made a 180-degree turn, because [before COVID-19] we would deliver a hot and cold meal daily to people in their homes, and we would deliver a lot of in-home services. And you can imagine that during COVID, going into their home would put them at risk. They're already particularly at risk due to their age and many of them have other illnesses that expose them to a higher risk.”
Fortunately, Archer-Smith has found a way to keep delivering food while maintaining social distancing rules and ensuring her clients’ wellbeing.
“My whole career I've worked in the Human Services arena, working with vulnerable and marginalized populations. And when there was an opportunity at Meals on Wheels, I sort of got through the whole human spectrum.”- Stephanie Archer-Smith
“We were able to pivot to a frozen meal delivery. We deliver once a week instead of going to the home five days a week, and we're packing frozen meals in boxes that will last them a week.”
Furthermore, to ensure her clients are emotionally well and still have company, Archer-Smith has taken the in-home services offered by Meals on Wheels online.
“Many people that we serve don't have the technology to do zoom calls like we're doing now, but they are able to speak over the phone… so we set up a wellness call system, where volunteers were calling them twice a week.”
Although coping with COVID-19 has been a challenge for both the organization and its clients, it has helped Meals on Wheels develop adaptations that will bring efficiency to the operations even after the pandemic. Meals on Wheels’ meal packaging methods have gradually become more technology-based instead of volunteer-based, allowing for the organization to support the increasing demand for meals and services.
Aside from her main profession at Meals on Wheels, Archer-Smith uses her unique skill set to help build her own community on a smaller scale, even during the current situation.
“Certainly, in the pandemic, I've done a lot of volunteer work myself… working with my Community Association, working with parks and people… to really strengthen the community that I lived in. As I gained expertise in management and nonprofits, there were other [nonprofit] boards who were seeking out my support, so I later started to volunteer my time on those boards.”
Archer-Smith also provides advice for students who are looking to pursue a similar career in management and leadership.
“I really hope that this can grow and help as many people as possible. It's super heartwarming to go to detention facilities or hospitals… The people are so appreciative and I hope that the volunteers know how thankful I am for them”.
“Make sure that you spend time doing the actual work. There are opportunities now for people to get master's degrees in nonprofit management, and things like that… but if you really want to manage nonprofits, particularly one that serves marginalized individuals or vulnerable individuals, spend some time doing the work so you really understand what it’s about for them, what it's like for them, and how to really make an impact.”