World War II veteran, a 101-year-old Pacific Beach resident, receives a special meal delivery
Pacific Beach resident Barbara Bartosik had a special visitor deliver her Meals on Wheels lunch to her home on Veterans Day.
Brent Wakefield, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels San Diego, brought the meal to Bartosik, who served in the military during World War II.
Just a couple weeks earlier she celebrated her 101st birthday, which happened to be on Halloween.
“She’s inspiring because she’s had an interesting past and continues to move forward,” Wakefield said of Bartosik, who has been serviced by Meals on Wheels since 2018.
“She’s connected and engaged, and that’s something we like to highlight,” he said. “I guarantee there’s a lot of our volunteers that get more from Barbara when they deliver the meals than what she receives.”
Bartosik joined the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in 1943, sworn in just weeks before graduating from college. She was trained at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and served as a company officer at Parris Island, South Carolina.
“I had to lead the platoons at that time,” Bartosik recalled, who achieved the rank of first lieutenant. “We were a great generation, we were very patriotic.”
Following her military service, Bartosik moved to San Diego in 1958 and earned a teaching credential at San Diego State University. She taught English in the San Diego Unified School District for nearly three decades. After retiring from teaching she worked as a docent at the San Diego Botanical Garden, helping with propagation.
In the years since, she took up painting, a pastime she shared with her mother.
“We would take these snapshots on our travels, my husband and I, and I would paint from the photos since then,” Bartosik said. “I needed something different in retirement to keep me busy. My mother painted oils and I took after her.”
On Veterans Day, Wakefield met with Bartosik on her front porch, delivering a fresh lunch for her to enjoy. They conversed politely, Wakefield sharing that his grandfather served in the Navy in World War II. Bartosik insisted that the Marines were the better part of the military with a cheeky grin.
Wakefield said he was raised by his grandparents, and he credits this as a major influence in how he approaches his work.
“My grandmother lived in the home until she was 100, and then she went to a nursing home down the street where my grandfather went twice a day to feed her lunch and dinner because he didn’t want her to be alone,” Wakefield shared.
“What was beautiful in my experience was that my grandparents were the center of the universe and everything revolved around them,” Wakefield said. “It was a huge extended family and they were kind of the bosses. They were extremely connected, and because of that, they were the opposite of isolated.”
Meals on Wheels delivers more than just food. It also offers a crucial social aspect for the meal recipients.
Willy Gloria, director of Advocacy and Metro Service Center, has been one of Bartosik’s regular visitors. He said they both enjoy Thai food and share coffee frequently.
“He’s a gem,” Bartosik said of Gloria. “He’s very outgoing for his job and he’s wonderful.”
Wakefield stressed that having people around is the difference between good health and bad health.
“Connectivity is a really important thing,” Wakefield said. “Having the CEO come and visit, that’s fine, but a lot of these folks have their favorite volunteers, and the volunteers talk with them.”
In particular, Wakefield highlighted the program’s services for veterans. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Meals on Wheels saw a 13 percent increase in demand among the veteran population in San Diego.
“We got 230 more veterans right away,” Wakefield said. “I think the pandemic affected a lot of veterans. We are a veteran-predominant town, about 30 percent of our clients are veterans or spouses of veterans.
“It’s a population that is often at risk or underserved,” he added. “We also provide meals for disabled veterans of any age.”
In 2021, Meals on Wheels San Diego received a $4 million gift from billionaire Mackenzie Scott, which the organization plans on using to bolster its infrastructure. Wakefield said the organization is poised to make a real estate purchase soon that will consolidate its meal center with its metro service center.
“Because we need more space, (these funds) have allowed us to plan for that, but also to address some improvements in our existing infrastructure,” Wakefield said. “We’ve been able to deploy more vans, hire more staff and double our care navigation team.”
Despite this increase in assets, Wakefield still stresses the need for additional help.
“We did a study with the Hunger Coalition on seniors around the county, who are about 200 percent of the federal poverty level,” he said. “That puts them at risk for nutrition and security. Census data says we’re going to go from 600,000 seniors in the county to 1 million in just a few years, so there is an imperative to increase our infrastructure, getting people to invest ahead of time. We could literally quadruple in size and still not meet the demand of what’s coming towards us.”
To volunteer for Meals on Wheels San Diego, get information on signing up for meal delivery or to donate, visit SanDiegoMealsOnWheels.org or call 619-260-6110.