As the March for Meals program wrapped up its final day Thursday, Lee Edwards, co-owner of Pop’s Burger Stand at 107 South Monroe St., spoke about the importance of community involvement in the Meals-on-Wheels effort to bring food to those who aren’t able to get out or cook for themselves.

Edwards started out as a volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels of Johnson and Ellis Counties in Red Oak in 2006.

His reasoning for volunteering for the program was simple, but probably spoke volumes as to why most of those who donate their time, effort and/or money to Meals-on-Wheels.

“I just think it’s important to give back,” said Edwards. “Who knows, they may have to bring me a meal one of these days.”

Edwards opened Pops Burger Stand in Ennis in May of 2014, stayed there nine months, then opened his Waxahachie location in April 2015. That’s when he started the donation bucket for Meals-on-Wheels. A simple water jug converted into a donation bucket sits near the register where patrons can donate any amount they want. Most donate a dollar, and then get to fill out a card that Edwards pins to the wall in his diner.

Half of that money goes to help fund Meals-on-Wheels of Ellis and Johnson Counties, while the other half goes to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Edwards explained why those two projects are important to him.

“The answer isn’t as complicated as you might think,” said Edwards. “We’re taking care of the older folks, and we’re taking care of the kiddos.”

Edwards represents all that is great with the community partners who do so much to make the program a success, said Vinsen Faris, the Meals-on-Wheels of Ellis and Johnson County Executive Director.

But Edwards was quick to say that this wasn’t about him, but about the people of Waxahachie and Ellis County.

“We’re just a drop off point,” said Edwards. “I didn’t put those dollars in there. The citizens of Waxahachie need credit for what’s being done here.”

Lisa Deese, who servers as Community Development Coordinator for Meals-on-Wheels of Ellis and Johnson County, said that they started the community support cards last year, in an effort to generate community and business involvement and hopefully raise awareness. Donors can sign the card and donate one dollar to help Meals-on-Wheels. Businesses, if they choose to, can display the cards which is another way to help raise awareness about the effort.

“We brought in a couple of packs of cards, which we thought would have lasted for a few months,” said Deese. “Lee called back the next day and said he was out of cards and needed more. And I’ve been back twice a week ever since we started this with more cards.”

One can look around Pop’s Burger Stand, and there are hundreds of Meals-on-Wheels pledge cards tacked to the walls throughout the diner.

“I’ve got 147 cards that have already been sold up by the cash register that we haven’t been able to put up yet,” said Edwards. “This is such a blessing from the community. I didn’t do this. This represents the generosity of the people of Waxahachie and Ellis County.”

Faris noted there are other benefits from Edwards’ effort.

“One of the great things, too, is the conversations that have started with the folks at the counter talking about the program, as well as the people waiting in line to pay for their meals,” said Faris. “That dialogue is critical to helping get the word out.”

Edwards has had some heartwarming encounters during his involvement with Meals-on-Wheels.

“When I was volunteering in Red Oak, I delivered to a lady, and she thanked me, then told me she delivered Meals-on-Wheels for 30 years,” said Edwards. “I didn’t even know Meals-on-Wheels was that old. Can you imagine volunteering like that for 30 years? I was just overwhelmed.”

Edwards said he knew delivering the meals was important, but for him, the true rewards came when he was able to simply help his fellow man. As he fought back tears, he said he was the one who always came away feeling humbled and blessed.

“I did little things for all of my people,” said Edwards. “I never had a day that I volunteered, that when I finished, I wasn’t glad I did it. I just brought them some food. What I got out of it was something no amount of money could buy.”

Edwards talked about the early lessons in life his mother told him about, and the fact that while it took a long time to hit him, when it did, it was life-changing.

“My mother always told me it was better to give than to receive,” said Edwards. “I didn’t get it. I don’t know if I was 30 years old or 40 years old, but all of a sudden, it did feel better to give than receive, and from that point on, I just took it and ran with it.”

Meals-on-Wheels is all about community, and neighbor helping neighbor, said Faris.

“And what Lee and the folks that work here have done is just unbelievable,” Faris added. “Meals-on-Wheels always needs community roots and community champions, because the greater community support you have, the greater good can be done.”

Edwards finished with a story that shines a light on what it means to unselfishly give and show that to young people.

“I took my 8-year-old granddaughter with me to deliver Meals-on-Wheels,” said Edwards. “About the third house we went to – and this gentleman was new on my route — he opened the door and just started crying. I had to settle him down a little.”

As tears welled up in Edwards’ eyes, he talked about how important that moment was to him.

“Think about the conversation, after the door closed, that my granddaughter and I had walking back to the car,” said Edwards. “And now, she always asks ‘Paw Paw, can I go with you to deliver Meals-on-Wheels?”

Edwards summed it up best when he said, “You can’t buy experience and moments like that with chalk, marbles or money.”

Edwards is truly a community champion, Faris said.

“This is what it’s all about,” Faris said.