Eastpointe woman nominated for national award

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published August 13, 2014

 Emma Otto checks the meals she will be delivering as part of the Macomb County Meals on Wheels program Aug. 7.

Emma Otto checks the meals she will be delivering as part of the Macomb County Meals on Wheels program Aug. 7.

Photo by Donna Agusti

EASTPOINTE — A lifelong Eastpointe native could have national recognition for her work with the Meals on Wheels program.

Emma Otto, 85, has been nominated for the Meals on Wheels Association of America’s American Volunteer Contest, effectively an award for the most “outstanding volunteer,” according to Kristin Ledford, spokeswoman with the Macomb County Community Services Agency. The agency administers the county’s own Meals on Wheels program through the Office of Senior Services and nominated Otto for the award.

“We chose Emma because, earlier this year, she was given our Community Champion award,” Ledford said. “It’s a new award we started in Meals on Wheels in Macomb County to honor an outstanding volunteer. We thought since she was already nominated for that, we should submit her name for this national award, too.”

According to a press release from Macomb County, Otto has been volunteering with the organization for the past seven years, delivering meals at least twice a month. She was nominated because of her “commitment, compassion and sense of responsibility” to help others, it said.

When she heard that she was being nominated for the national award, Otto said she was speechless and in tears.

Otto said she has always enjoyed helping people and has been a home help aid for 15 years. It’s something that her family follows, too, she said, as her daughters work as nurses.

“I don’t remember if I saw an ad or something at some time, but I heard they could use some volunteers for Meals on Wheels, and I figured that would be a good little hobby for me,” Otto said.

Ledford said Otto tends to go above and beyond her required duties, often filling in for other people who cannot make their runs as a substitute so she can make sure her neighbors have enough to eat.

“She is just really the embodiment of what we are looking for in volunteers,” Ledford said. “Someone who cares about her neighbors and wants to make sure they have something to eat that’s good for them.”

“She is the same age or older as many of the people on her route — and the recipients of Meals on Wheels — and she has such a passion for making sure her peers are not going hungry out there, and being able to do what she can in retirement to help them,” she added.

Otto said her favorite part of the job is meeting all the people to whom she delivers meals, as some of them get quite lonely.

“I try to talk to each one a little bit. Some of them want to talk a little longer, and I have to excuse myself to get going to the next one,” Otto said. “I try to cheer them up, make them little crochet crosses, or bring them little flowers, or just every once in a while, bring a little bit of sunshine into their lives.”

Outside of Meals on Wheels, she said she tries to keep active — her secret to a long life. She exercises regularly at the Roseville-Eastpointe recreation center and belongs to the Eagles Club and Moose Club, where she helps with their children’s home and nursing home programs. She also helps a blind friend go shopping and makes crafts while watching television.

County Executive Mark Hackel praised Otto’s dedication to Meals on Wheels and to helping her fellow residents.

“Emma is an outstanding example of a volunteer in Macomb County and deserves national recognition,” Hackel said in a statement.

Otto is more modest about the recognition, though, saying that she feels all the volunteers deserve to get recognized.

“There’s a lot of us that enjoy helping others and delivering Meals on Wheels,” she said. “I feel embarrassed that I’m singled out, because I think they should all have praise.”