Workers and residents gathered Tuesday to celebrate the new Toyota Sienna won by Marinette County Elderly Services. The vehicle was won in October during Toyota�s 100 Cars for Good giveaway during a Facebook-based voting program. Elderly Services will use the van to deliver meals to homebound elderly in the Wausaukee area. MCES director Pam Mueller Johnson is just right of center with a pink scarf around her neck. <br>EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Workers and residents gathered Tuesday to celebrate the new Toyota Sienna won by Marinette County Elderly Services. The vehicle was won in October during Toyota�s 100 Cars for Good giveaway during a Facebook-based voting program. Elderly Services will use the van to deliver meals to homebound elderly in the Wausaukee area. MCES director Pam Mueller Johnson is just right of center with a pink scarf around her neck.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
WAUSAUKEE - Marinette County Elderly Services won a Sienna van last October in the "Toyota 100 Cars for Good" contest.

The news triggered euphoria among the staff of the Crivitz-based nonprofit organization and its supporters and those who benefit from its services.

The celebrating started all over again Tuesday as the vehicle was unveiled at the senior citizen meal site in the Evergreen Plaza where it will be based and used to deliver meals to the homebound elderly in the Wausaukee area.

"This is really a very special day for us," said Elderly Services Director Pam Mueller Johnson, in unveiling the vehicle to a large crowd of people. "This is a day we are christening and celebrating our new Sienna that is worth $32,000.

"We applied for it as a private non-profit organization, we are lucky to have acquired it. I want to thank all my staff and my board members. This is a wonderful day for us."

She said she especially wanted to thank Mary Basak, Elderly Services transportation and special projects coordinator.

"She was the push behind me that got this thing done," Mueller Johnson said. "She said 'Pam we can do it, we can do it.'

"I said 'Mary there's too much to do.' She kept saying 'we can do it!' She was the driver for this whole thing. This is huge for our organization."

Mueller Johnson also thanked several other supporters of the agency including Jenny Short of Wisconsin Public Service, Al Basak of Waupaca Foundry, Dan Schroeder of Visions, Frank Porth Chevrolet, Tom Westlund of Westlund Bus Lines, Tri-City United Way and the M&M Community Foundation.

She also said she wished to thank all "those people who voted for us on Facebook, because without them this wouldn't have been possible."

"This is fantastic, wow a $32,000 vehicle," said Marinette County Supervisor Joe Policello, who is chairman of the Committee on Aging, the governing board of Elderly Services. "What a boost to our budget because we were going to have to replace that vehicle we're using now. It was falling apart, this really helps the bottom line."

Elderly Services was selected last August to be one of 250 finalists in the contest from among 2,500 applications from non-profit organizations.

There then was 50 consecutive days of voting on Facebook with five organizations on the ballot each day eligible to win two vehicles. Elderly Services finished second among five finalists in online voting on Oct. 6 in its second year of competing in the contest.

"I was shockingly surprised," Basak said Tuesday. "It's been a 10-month long journey that started last May and this is the big hurrah.

"We did not win the first year, but we thought it was worth a shot again. We didn't have much hope, but we won. We wanted to have this open house to let everyone know what an amazing thing this is."

Mueller Johnson, Chris Janiak, who is the Wausaukee meal site driver, and Basak picked the vehicle up Feb. 26 at a ceremony at Le Mieux Toyota in Green Bay.

"We'll actually start delivering meals with it on Monday," Basak said. "We had to get our lettering put on the back windows."

Kimberly Connaher, Elderly Services nutrition coordinator, said 4,860 meals were delivered out of the Wausaukee meal site in 2013 with the present vehicle being used, a Pontiac Vibe, traveling 21,000 miles.

"It's very exciting," she said. "The meal delivery program is amazing.

"It's really amazing how many people we reach with it. We actually had 29,000 meals delivered across the county last year."

"We were granted this vehicle for a very good cause," Mueller Johnson added. "Some of the people we deliver meals to live in very desolate areas and live alone.

"Many times it's more than just a meal because a lot of their families are gone. Socially they are very isolated, so that driver means a lot. It's an amazing program, we're very proud of it."

Mueller Johnson noted the current delivery vehicle is "rusting and has a lot of miles (140,000) on it" and it is not big enough to transport people back and forth to the meal site, something the Sienna will be able to do.
"The more people we can bring to be site to see and be with people is definitely good," Connaher said.

One of the happiest people at the open house on Tuesday was Janiak, who after a year of being a substitute driver, has been the permanent deliverer of meals from the Wausaukee site for 14 years.

She said she "cried" when she heard Elderly Service won the Sienna.

"I drove it back from Green Bay," Janiak said. "It's a dream to drive. I've never driven or ridden in anything that rides so smoothly."

She stressed that her job entails much more than delivering meals.

"Half of them live alone and I'm the only person they see more than once a week," Janiak explained. "I'm their personal connection to anyone else unless they have a caregiver that comes in.

"You can't just go to the door and hand them their meal. You have to stop and talk to them for a couple of minutes and make a connection. I check to see if they're doing good or if they are looking sick. It's a big responsibility."

She said her job is made easier by the people she works with including Karen Downs, who has been the head cook at the Wausaukee meal site for nearly 21 years.

"We're buddies," she said of her relationship with Janiak. "We're very excited (about the new vehicle). What a great thing it is for us. I've already ridden in it to a staff meeting. It rides beautiful."