Meet Adina Bailey and Scott Rogers, local founders
by LAUREE STROUD PURCELL
If you’ve ever used or been asked to use the very popular “Take Them A Meal Website” to help supply meals or a covered dish for a friend or family member in a crisis, did you know the popular website was born and continues to be managed right here in Harrisonburg/Rockingham County?
In December 2007, Harrisonburg resident Adina Bailey’s friend Rachel collapsed from the sudden onset of a heart condition and was taken to University of Virginia (UVA) Medical Center. Everyone started calling Adina wanting to bring a meal to Rachel’s family the next day and wanting directions to Rachel’s dairy farm in Mount Crawford, Va.
While Adina wanted to coordinate help, she had young children of her own and soon became overwhelmed with the number of calls to return. Adina knew Scott Rogers, who attended Harrisonburg’s Covenant Presbyterian Church with Adina and Rachel at that time, enjoyed creating tools with technology. So she asked Scott if he could create a website to help schedule everyone who wanted to bring a meal to Rachel’s family. Scott quickly designed the TakeThemAMeal.com website to eliminate the need for making and receiving time-consuming phone calls.
Word of TakeThemAMeal.com spread with each new use. Their friends started using the site when babies were born, when loved ones were receiving medical treatments and in other situations. Church secretaries were especially relieved to discover this tool. In the early days, Scott and Adina found one of their favorite parts of working with the website was getting double phone messages. The first would be “Can you help me sign up?” Then later, “Never mind, I figured it out.” It’s easy, fast and users don’t need to create an account to use it. The templates are straightforward like a sign-up sheet so people aren’t intimidated.
People want to help in a crisis, but often don’t know how. TakeThemAMeal.com ensures everyone who wants to do something has a chance to help. If people don’t use the Internet, they often have children or grandchildren who can help use the site or church secretaries assist others in using the tool.
In creating the site, Adina and Scott weren’t trying to start a business. People’s use of it led to the creation of the company as the website evolved to meet the needs of users. Many are trying to help the families of someone who recently died or of someone going through chemotherapy. So customer service involves much empathy and sensitivity to people dealing with a crisis. Scott and Adina appreciate the help of their director of customer support, Melissa Jenkins, and customer service specialist, Lindsey Shantz. “Melissa and Lindsey are patient and helpful when our customers need them,” says Adina. Lindsey, incidentally, also works part time as business manager for Valley Living.
TakeThemAMeal.com can be helpful for keeping the care going over the long haul, like fighting cancer. People sometimes have a knee-jerk reaction to cancer news and want to do something right away. But with the on-again, off-again schedule of chemotherapy treatments, families will have tough weeks and relatively smooth weeks. The site has the communication tools to allow emails to be sent each time someone is about to undergo treatment and need more meals for a family.
As they received feedback and questions from users of TakeThemAMeal.com, Scott and Adina created a sister website, PerfectPotluck.com. This site is popular for holidays and family reunions, when many people will be contributing to a shared meal. They created a Potluck Calculator to determine how many people need to bring a certain type of dish to ensure meals are well-balanced.
Five years ago, TakeThemAMeal.com established a web store through a partnership with Harrisonburg restaurant A Bowl of Good. It was a natural fit to offer people living far from their loved ones a chance to still provide a meal and show they care. A grandparent who is living out of state when a grandchild is born can still have a meal delivered. It’s easier than carryout or a gift card because the meal shows up on one’s front porch.
The vast majority of users are taking meals they prepare themselves, but those who place orders through the web store provide a small profit margin, which allows Scott and Adina to cover the costs of technology, infrastructure and their small part-time staff. The websites have no advertising. During its first few years of use, some donations were accepted to help keep the site alive, but that is no longer necessary.
In addition to the templates for signing up to provide food, the two websites offer recipes and helpful, inspiring blog posts. Maureen Witmer, director of outreach and engagement, writes a blog, develops recipes and photographs food. She puts considerable time and energy into selecting the suggested recipes. Website users want options they know, from experience, will transport well and taste good. Maureen eats a gluten-free diet, so she is sensitive to people’s dietary restrictions and preferences and offers many options.
Seeing people’s generosity to help take care of others is rewarding and inspiring. Scott and Adina feel fortunate to be witnessing, on a large scale, many small but meaningful ways people are helping and responding to crises in their communities. For example, during a large wildfire in Colorado, volunteers used the site to provide a large meal for firefighters when they returned to the firehouse from an exhausting day of work.
“We’re often struck by how generous people are. There isn’t a big need to tell people about the site. The website started because of the generosity of this community,” said Scott. In Mount Solon, a student at Blue Ridge Christian School sustained a sudden serious head injury. He spent months being treated at UVA. A parent from the school set up a page at TakeThemAMeal.com to help the injured child’s parents, siblings and grandmother deal with the crisis. Overnight, members of the community committed to bringing a meal to the child’s home every weekday for six months.
Kate Kelty considers the site to be a tremendous gift in her life and in the lives of others. TakeThemAMeal.com was used to organize many months of meals for her after she lost a baby and then also after the birth of each of her four sons. “Because of what a blessing this site has been to me, I have looked for opportunities to be able to bless others by organizing and scheduling meals. The meal ministry is one that has blessed my life and allowed me to be a blessing to others,” said Kate.
“We’re often struck by how generous people are. There isn’t a big need to tell people about the site.” –Scott Rogers
After the Sandy Hook tragedy, the community there used the site to provide meals for victims’ families. For the one-year anniversary of the shootings, TakeThemAMeal collected contributions from users all over the country so every teacher and every affected family that wanted one got a free meal. In September 2013, the TakeThemAMeal team gave out 130 full meals for families of four to six people from A Bowl of Good plus cards printed with encouraging messages from the over 80 people who donated to this effort. Scott delivered 90 of the meals to the school himself and was able to meet some of the teachers and staff. “Their gratitude has deepened our conviction that continuing care is just as important as an immediate response,” said Adina. Each year, the TakeThemAMeal team plans to send something to the teachers at Sandy Hook to let them know they are remembered.
Three years ago, Scott got a request from the Ronald McDonald houses in Tampa and Orlando to customize the site to schedule volunteers to provide two to three meals a day, 365 days a year. He tailored the site, with a few small changes, to fit their large-scale, continual need. Other Ronald McDonald houses started using it, too, and it spread from there. Scott offers this customization to interested Ronald McDonald houses as a free service. They link from the house page to the meal schedule. “We didn’t create the concept of people taking meals,” says Scott, “so we’re excited to create a tool that allows more people to easily participate.”
Scott is also a Realtor for Funkhouser Real Estate Group in Harrisonburg, and Adina homeschools two of her three children. They, like the rest of their staff, work on the websites on a very part-time basis. Scott and Adina have master’s degrees from JMU in counseling and psychology, so they appreciate the emotional piece that goes with every meal schedule created and understand the need for sensitivity.
Over a million meals are coordinated through the site every year. “It’s amazing how people are caring for each other in significant, meaningful, tangible ways. We’re just putting a tool in people’s hands,” says Scott. Each month, 800,000 unique individuals visit the two websites, and provide 120,000 meals to help others. Many additional meals are ordered from the web store each month. The main users are in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. But the site is being visited from almost every country on earth. Adina and Scott are happy to be seeing the positive impact their websites are having on so many lives.
LAUREE STROUD PURCELL serves as an editorial consultant for Living. She and her husband Steve have two daughters.