Paying it forward: Feeding people, and helping them

Hundreds of people are able to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast every year, thanks to Tom Insley and his fellow volunteers at the Norwood United Methodist Church. But the 66-year-old business owner also coordinates a couple of baked steak meals for the community each year as well as prepares free dinners at the church the third Friday of every month for anyone who needs a meal.

Question: You seem to be a pretty busy man. How do you find the time to volunteer?

Answer: I run Insley Plumbing with my son, Jonathan, so I can take the time off when I’m needed. I’ve been a plumber for about 50 years, but have had the business for 22 years now. And I enjoy this. I really look forward to Thanksgiving, feeding people and helping them get what they need. But we also have a lot of volunteers who help out-about 30 volunteers show up for the Thanksgiving Day dinner.

Q: Did you grow up in the church?

A: No. I was born and raised in Hampton, Va., but in the 1970s I came to this area to work on the Willow Island power plant project and met my wife, Vicky, who was a medical technician at Marietta Memorial Hospital. I wasn’t much of a church-goer until after we were married and started raising a family. But we thought it was important for kids to be in church. And I’ve been on the board of trustees here for more than 12 years now.

Q: Do you volunteer outside the church?

A: I’ve volunteered for some community projects, but most of the time I help out here at the church. I like to cook, and at Halloween we set up outside the church and serve hot dogs to neighborhood children and their parents. And we have a “breakfast with Santa” event during the first or second week of December. We cook up a lot of pancakes then. We feed the kids, then they come into the fellowship room to meet Santa and have their pictures taken.

Q: How long have you been chairing the annual community Thanksgiving dinners?

A: The dinners have been held for at least 14 or 15 years now, but I’ve only been coordinating them for about five years. We probably serve an average of 400 people every year, and get a lot of support from the community and businesses like Broughtons and Food 4 Less.

Q: Do you encourage other people to volunteer?

A: We always need volunteers, especially drivers to deliver meals on Thanksgiving. It seems like the need is growing every year. And there’s a lot of satisfaction in helping someone you don’t know. Some of these people have not eaten a hot meal in more than a week. I think it’s really a shame that people would go hungry in this country.

Sam Shawver conducted this interview.