Wheelin’ and Mealin’
By Joy Donovan
Photography by Jill Johnson
Mary King has headed the Southlake area’s Meals on Wheels agency for nearly a quarter century. What keeps her in the job?
Something keeps Mary King in a job for more than a generation.
Something keeps her in a nonprofit position with long hours, crazy schedules and never-ending need for almost a quarter century.
The answer is simple for King, who has served as executive director of Metroport Meals on Wheels for 23 years.
“The smiles,” she says with a grin of her own.
Since 2000, King has directed the Roanoke-based nonprofit in delivering hot lunches and friendship to shut-ins five days a week in 24 municipalities in Tarrant, Denton and Wise counties. She oversees meal delivery, powered by an army of volunteers; establishes partnerships with food suppliers; runs a revenue-generating resale shop; supervises staff; guides fundraising events; and maintains contact with community participants.
“I just love it,” she says. “It’s hard. But we are helping to take care of people who are doing everything they can to stay independent.”
King grew up in Richardson, attended Texas Tech University and was a stay-at-home mom of two. She also volunteered her time, including delivering meals to shut-ins. When her daughters were in middle school, she was hired as a CEO for a therapeutic horseback riding nonprofit. She learned a lot about running an organization there, and when she heard about the executive director opening at Metroport, she jumped at it.
“I liked the people, I like the mission and I love small-town Texas,” she says. “I inquired, and it ended up being a good fit.”
When she took the reins of the agency, established in 1980 by civic leader Kelly Bradley, the organization ran on an annual budget of a little more than $300,000 and employed 10 to 12 people, some part time. Now Metroport’s budget is $1.75 million, and it has 19 full- and part-time employees. It outgrew its space at The Classic restaurant in Roanoke years ago and has its own location, crowded with bagged food items ready for distribution.
Earlier this year, the nonprofit reached a milestone when it delivered its 2 millionth meal, said John Thane, a Southlake resident who is president of the Metroport board. He credits King with much of the organization’s continued success. Staff turnover is low, he says. And while meals cost an average of $7.25, King makes it work even as community needs grow, Thane says.
“To say I hold Mary in a great positive light would be an understatement,” he says. “She is an incredible person. She’s passionate about what she does.”
While King no longer regularly delivers meals, she does stay hands-on with the demands of the job, including office work and being seen in the community.
“It’s really important as a nonprofit to be an organization that appreciates the community support we receive, and part of that is giving back and supporting them,” says King, who has received numerous leadership awards. “It can’t be a one-way street.”
Staying busy, helping others and going to work became even more important two years ago when Cary, her husband of 22 years, died after a prolonged illness.
Since then, her labradoodle, Hershey, and her work give her complete affirmation. She delights in knowing the organization delivers 6,000 meals a month and operates 12 senior centers.
Even on the bad days, King’s commitment is evident, says Tina Patel, Southlake resident and Metroport’s president-elect.
“She is so amazing,” Patel says. “She has the biggest heart of anyone I know, and you can see it every day. She’s truly extraordinary.”
Pulling together donations and volunteers is a part of King’s talent. Locally, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford provides meals for the HEB area; Central Market for Colleyville and Southlake; Scratch Catering & Fine Foods for Keller and North Richland Hills; DeVio Bros. Eatery for Keller; and Willhoite’s Restaurant for Grapevine. In addition to individuals, volunteers come from church groups, civic organizations and youth clubs.
At her office, King keeps a treasured stash of thank-you notes from recipients.
“The community is so generous,” she says. “The people out here just care, and they care about what happens to people in the community. The most inspiring part of my job is to see how people care.”