Volunteer Stories: Delivering Friendships in Mercer County

June 2, 2022

As a child, Brandon Gaines volunteered alongside his grandfather during school holidays and summer breaks to make deliveries for the Meals on Wheels program in his North Carolina hometown. Nearly two decades later, Brandon’s role as director of Financial Support Services and Service Excellence in the Office of Finance and Treasury reconnected him with his first memories of serving others. He now volunteers as president of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County.

By Vanessa Livingstone, Office of Human Resources

Brandon speaks at the annual luncheon for Meals on Wheels volunteers.
Brandon speaks at the annual luncheon for Meals on Wheels volunteers.

“It was always more than just a meal,” Brandon recalls of delivering meals to participants’ homes with his grandfather.

In addition to providing customized, nutritious meals, Meals on Wheels strives to ease the social isolation experienced by its participants — individuals who are unable to shop or cook for themselves. Over 50% of homebound seniors served by the nonprofit in Mercer County live alone with no family in the area, and volunteers are often the only visitors to participants’ homes on a given day.

Volunteers and participants can form friendships quickly, especially when meals are delivered by the same person each day. Brandon recalled how participants on his grandfather’s route would remember him and ask about his schooling and extra-curricular activities.

As Princetonians connected to the University’s service-focused mission, it’s innate in us to want to serve. The opportunities at Princeton, and beyond, are endless and they can come when you least expect it.

Working at Princeton led Brandon to rejoin the cause as an adult living in New Jersey. A colleague mentioned Meals on Wheels during a meeting, and he excitedly asked how to become involved. Coincidentally, the Mercer County board was looking for a new member with experience in finance; Brandon joined the board in 2018 and was elected as the board’s president in 2020.

Through the height of the pandemic, Brandon helped to guide Meals on Wheels with solutions for protecting the safety of its volunteers and participants, resulting in the organization not missing a single day of meal deliveries. He also produced a virtual holiday concert fundraiser to raise awareness of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County. The concert, held in Brandon’s living room, provided joy during a holiday season when attending a concert was not possible.

More recently, Brandon played a key role in facilitating two strategies: partnering with local restaurants that struggled during the pandemic to promote a mutually-beneficial fundraising effort, and launching an initiative to support underserved residents of Mercer County, specifically in the Southeast Asian and Hispanic communities.

Among the many positive attributes of Meals on Wheels, Brandon is most proud of the organization’s commitment to never turn anyone away, as the nonprofit provides subsidies for participants who cannot afford their meals to ensure everyone will get the support they need.

“The service mindset I have towards my colleagues at Princeton is the same service mindset that I hope to convey in my work with Meals on Wheels… to give back to the Mercer County community, while honoring the important work of my grandfather, is incredibly rewarding.”

To learn more or to become a volunteer, visit Meals on Wheels of Mercer County.

Photos courtesy of Brandon Gaines.

Feedback? Questions? Suggestions for future stories on staff who volunteer with outside organizations? Please write to the HR Communications Team.