By Sharon Semanie
For the Daily Call
PIQUA — Don Kuchta of Piqua is a multi-faceted individual whose talents in communication, theatre arts and community service have served him well throughout his career. The personable father of three, however, is spellbound by Meals on Wheels of Piqua, which he describes as “one of the most efficient charitable organizations around.”
A Chicago native who moved to Piqua 30 years ago, Kuchta is the newly hired executive director of the Meals on Wheels program, which was founded in 1972 by Vi Das and a number of other community volunteers. Equipped with a cell phone, large canvas bag of files and his pick-up truck, Kuchta has no office. He simply reports to the Koester Pavilion on Mondays through Fridays where he — and several other drivers-pick up meals for noon delivery to clients throughout the community.
The mission of the Meals on Wheels organization, notes treasurer Karen Wendeln, has always been “to provide hot, nutritious meals to residents of Piqua who are unable to provide for themselves due to age, injury, illness or other disability.” Wendeln has calculated between 4,000-5,000 miles are delivered annually.
On any given day Kuchta and two others arrive at the pavilion where hearty meals are placed in insulated containers and coolers and distributed to between 25 to 30 local clients. “There are very nice meals served,” he noted, adding a typical lunch might include roast beef, green beans, au gratin potatoes, soup, milk, juice, gelatin, cake, bread, crackers and butter.” Other meals such as salmon patties and fried chicken are also welcome additions, adds 94-year-old Mary Latham of Piqua, who routinely receives meals at her home.
As he makes his daily rounds Kuchta, who distinguishes himself by wearing a large identification badge around his neck, has a written chart of clients’ dietary restrictions, contact names and phone numbers -mainly relatives and neighbors-should he observe special needs. An affable gentleman, he easily engages with the Meals on Wheels recipients and provides invaluable social interaction through his daily visits.
“It (home visits) are very interpersonal,” he added. “It’s not like getting a (special mail) delivery. There’s daily interaction and it’s nice to be able to share their day with them.”
Kuchta’s background is equally as impressive. He attended both Valparaiso College and St. Joseph College in Renssaelear, Ind., where he majored in communications and theatre arts and, most importantly, met his future wife, the former Shirley DeBrosse, of Piqua. He was formerly employed by St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Dayton where he helped create educational videos for professionals and nursing staff and, after 16 years, joined Sinclair College where he was associated with the audio-visual department.
He has appeared in myriad theatre productions over the years “doing shows and summer stock since first grade”. Among his favorites has been “Music Man” with the Dayton Playhouse and “Charley’s Aunt,” “Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Nuncrackers” with the Troy Civic Theatre. Several years ago he earned a human resource certification at Edison Community College and, when asked why, responded “I just thought it would be interesting.”
In addition to Meals on Wheels, he loves to sing karaoke to hits made famous by artists such as Billy Joel, James Taylor, John Denver and Michael Buble and can often be found at the Sidney VFW the third Thursday of the month. He also provides an invaluable service for Hospice of Miami County. “They have a program for (patients) recording personal stories. My job is to edit and record those stories” for clients’ families.
Kuchta and his wife are the parents of three children, Elizabeth, who works for a television network in New York City; Adam, who is earning a doctorate degree in English at Bowling Green State University; and Alain, a computer engineering student at the University of Cincinnati.
Individuals who are interested in obtaining more information about the Meals on Wheels program are asked to contact Kuchta at (937) 615-0940 or write him at P.O. Box 131, Piqua, OH. 45356.
Members of the Meals on Wheels board, in addition to Wendeln, are Mary Catherine Grimes, president; Jane Caslow, vice president; Sue Ann Penrod, corresponding secretary; Vicki Couchois, recording secretary; and Nancy Woods and Lois Hartings, directors-at-large.
The Meals on Wheels program is mainly supported by Piqua United Way and private donations. “We receive small stipends from Hartzell-Norris Trust and French Oil Mill Machinery Co.,” noted Wendeln, “and a larger one from the Richard Donnelly Designated Fund of the Piqua community Foundation.” In addition, memorial contributions are received each year and the organization spearheads a fundraising campaign called “Meal Partners,” a letter solicitation for friends of the organization to support them with a donation. Clients pay for the daily meal; however, due to a bequest made by the late Martha and Dorothy Shanesy, it has significantly reduced the cost of daily meals for individuals who are mostly on fixed incomes.
“We have also received grants over the years from the Piqua Community Foundation, the Miami County Foundation and local CROP walk,” she added.