Our HistoryProviding a service that nurtures the body, mind and spirit of neighbors in need
We are an independent non-profit organization that has delivered hot meals to seniors in the south metro Denver area since 1968. From our humble beginnings in the kitchen of our founder, Virginia Baker, we have always seen our mission as delivering more than just a meal. Our comprehensive services and volunteer visits provide an important intangible benefit to our clients that our community genuinely cares about our seniors.
Virginia Baker (1915-1994)
Founder of Town of Littleton Cares Meals on Wheels
“Our elderly people really need the help. They are the ones who are really suffering in this youth-oriented society. It’s terrible to be old and cold and hungry in a country as rich as this.”
Said upon receiving Littleton’s Most Valuable Citizen Award in 1974
1954 – The Beginning
The first American home-delivered meal program began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in January of 1954.
1968 to 1971 – Littleton
Having cared for her ill, widowed mother before her death in March of 1966, Virginia C. Baker becomes increasingly aware of the hardships and challenges also facing her mother’s friends and other seniors, some of whom are physically and financially unable to prepare meals and feed themselves. In 1968 she and a few friends begin delivering meals to several of those in need in Littleton. After her mother’s death, Virginia continues to live in the historic downtown Littleton home where her mother lived for many years. The home, built in 1890 by her maternal grandparents, prominent early residents Samuel T. and Adelaide Culp, is destroyed by an arsonist-set fire in January of 1974. This home is probably where these first meals were prepared, and where most of the early records were likely kept.
Culp family on the lawn of their home, 5554 S. Prince St., c 1891
Virginia Baker’s mother, Adelaide (Culp) Rhea, is the Culp’s middle daughter. Mrs. Baker lived in this home for a number of years throughout her life until it burned in 1974, and the first delivered meals were likely made here.
From the Collection of the Littleton Museum
1971 to 1975 – First Presbyterian Church
As the need for meal and other services for seniors continues to grow, in 1971 Mrs. Baker persuades Littleton’s First Presbyterian Church to allow her use the church’s kitchen and dining room for her senior program. She establishes Town of Littleton Cares, also known as TLC, incorporating the organization in January of 1972. By 1974, the program is serving a hot meal to 40-60 seniors each Tuesday noon in the church dining room, and through Meals on Wheels outreach, volunteers deliver a hot lunch and a cold evening snack (often sandwiches) five days a week to nearly 40 homebound seniors, a few of whom live as far away as Aurora.
Those who can afford to pay contribute up to 75 cents for the Tuesday congregate meal. The maximum charge for the delivered meals is $9/five days, but many pay less and a few pay nothing. Food stamps are accepted. Virginia refuses to take federal funds for this program, saying of recipients “If they haven’t got it, they haven’t got it. I don’t qualify them the way the government would like us to. These are honest, sincere people who wouldn’t cheat you out of a dime.” With no federal funding, any expense beyond the amount collected from those served is funded by churches, service organizations, and individual contributions.
When recruiting volunteers in early 1973 to further expand the delivery program eastward, Mrs. Baker tells the Aurora Social Planning Committee that “in addition to delivering each meal, volunteers are asked to check each recipient’s stove, straighten rugs, mail letters if requested, and sometimes even bring milk and bread–in other words, they should perform other needed services within their time limitations.”
By the end of 1974, Mrs. Baker’s TLC Meals on Wheels delivery program is the second largest in the state. And in addition to providing meals, Mrs. Baker’s ‘senior action center’ also hosts social and educational programs, including bingo and bridge, sewing and crafts, nutrition classes and self-help projects, and discussions that help seniors understand social security and other agency services. Retired citizens are recruited to repair toys for the Santa Claus Shop.
The Littleton Independent names Virginia Baker Littleton’s Most Valuable Citizen of 1974, for her long service to the community, particularly to the elderly.
Virginia Baker leading lady, 1973
In the kitchen of the First Presbyterian Church.
Littleton Independent photo. Courtesy Littleton Museum
1975 to 2009 – The Bradley House
In 1975, the Littleton Housing Authority completes a six-story apartment building for seniors. The City of Littleton directs the Authority to provide a kitchen/dining area for the burgeoning Town of Littleton Cares Meals on Wheels program. The annual rental fee for these facilities is $1.00, which the City of Littleton pays. Mrs. Baker continues to serve as the director, and in addition to other duties, she and others establish and tend vegetable and fruit gardens in several locations throughout Littleton, including one located on the site where her Culp family home stood before it was destroyed by fire. Both fresh and canned produce from these gardens and from those of other Littleton residents supplements the meal program.
In 1982, Mrs. Baker, then 67 years old, persuades her friend and colleague, Jan Andrus, to assume the organization’s directorship, before moving to Sacramento, CA, to help her son, Brian, with his veterinary practice. For the next 25 years, from 1982 to 2007, Jan Andrus expands the program, building the volunteer base to more than 200 volunteers, continuing the Tuesday congregate meal, creating the Twelve Days of Christmas gift program, and increasing home deliveries to over 220 daily meals served to those in need throughout western Arapahoe and southeastern Jefferson Counties. The congregate meal program ends with Jan’s retirement.
Throughout this time, the organization continues to solicit and receive funds from longtime contributors, and also from new and sometimes unexpected sources. For at least several years in the mid-1980’s, several topless nightclubs in Denver collect contributions from employees and patrons at Christmastime for Mrs. Andrus’s Meals on Wheels program. One of these is PT’s Showclub, where distributors donate mirrors, lights, jackets, and other items, all with beverage company logos, which employees then raffle off to patrons over a six-night period, raising around $1000/annually for our meal program.
In August of 2008, Phil Miller is appointed the new executive director.
Mrs. Robert Heiss delivers meals, Meals on Wheels, April 1973
Note meals wrapped in heavy newspaper, and Romano’s Pizza on Windermere Street in background.
Littleton Independent photo. Courtesy Littleton
Director Jan Andrus at the TLC Meals on Wheels 2005 Golf Tournament
Staff from the Bradley House
2009 to Present – Ames Building, Centennial
As the senior population and client base both continue to grow, the program begins to outgrow the Bradley House facilities. At the same time, with declining student enrollment, Littleton Public Schools repurposes Ames Elementary School in Centennial for teacher training and community service. At the invitation of LPS, Town of Littleton Cares Meals on Wheels moves to Ames, gaining a larger kitchen with the capacity to serve the growing senior population, increased storage facilities, and improved parking and office space. Upon making the move from Littleton to Centennial, the program’s legal name is shortened to TLC Meals on Wheels. A partnership is forged with the SouthGlenn Whole Foods Market, which donates groceries to implement a monthly Saturday grocery delivery program.
In 2012, the Virginia Baker Award is established to annually honor an outstanding volunteer. This award is presented each October at the Volunteer Appreciation event to a volunteer who particularly displays compassion, commitment, selflessness and service to our clients and organization. These are all traits that Virginia Baker embodied as the founder and first director of Town of Littleton Cares Meals on Wheels.
Upon Phil Miller’s retirement in January 2013, Diane McClymonds, former Director of Operations, is chosen as our new (and current) executive director.
In 2014, over 550 volunteers donate 25,000 hours, drive 74,000 miles, and deliver over 86,000 meals and visits. As of March 2015, volunteers deliver a daily average of 365 meals five days a week. Over half are unable to pay the full $4 cost of their meals. Always mindful of the spirit and example set by Virginia Baker nearly 50 years ago, our organization continues to operate without taking Older Americans Act funds from the federal government.