By Ron Hayes
On June 6, 1944, a U.S. Army paratrooper named Ed Manley jumped into Nazi-occupied France on a D-Day mission to blow up the cannons overlooking Omaha Beach.
He was 22.
On Sept. 11, 1944, he jumped into Holland during Operation Market Garden, on a mission to capture roads and bridges in the vital communications city of Eindhoven.
On Dec. 17, 1944, he was in Bastogne, Belgium, helping to hold off Hitler’s Fifth Panzer Army in the Battle of the Bulge.
And on Oct. 9, 2020, Ed Manley was at home on Hibiscus Drive in Briny Breezes, waiting for someone to bring his lunch.
He is 98.
“I was lying in a ditch,” he explained, “and John came along and said, ‘Can I help you?’”
The ditch is a metaphor, of course, but the help John Sallee brings is real. Like the U.S. Army’s 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, Meals on Wheels of the Palm Beaches has a mission.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, a team of five couriers leaves the organization’s kitchen on Old Okeechobee Road in West Palm Beach, bearing both hot and frozen meals to 40 volunteers, who deliver them to about 300 elderly clients living between Tequesta and Lantana.
Here comes John Sallee now. As his 2017 blue Ford Equinox stops on Hibiscus Drive this Friday morning, Manley eases down the steps of his mobile home to greet him.
Sometimes Chef Daniel Laudia prepares meatballs and mashed potatoes, salmon with rice and broccoli, or glazed pork and sweet potatoes. Veggie lasagna. Chicken piccata. Laudia cooked at a country club before coming to Meals on Wheels.
Today, it’s quiche, Tater Tots, a side salad, juice or milk and, October being National Cookie Month, extra cookies.
“The food is excellent!” Manley exclaimed. “I wasn’t eating enough vegetables and they give you a lot of grass. They give you spinach and carrots and peas and string beans.”
“The only thing I don’t like is the beans, because they give me gas.”
Actually, Ed Manley’s Friday lunch didn’t really begin on Old Okeechobee Road that morning. It began back in September, when his caregiver at the VA Hospital called Debbie Emerick, Meals on Wheels program director.
“Ed was OK cognitively,” Emerick recalls, “but she had concerns about his nutrition. He’s homebound, his family’s in Washington state, and neighbors were bringing him groceries. As soon as I heard he was a World War II vet, I wanted to help.”
“I was getting old,” Manley said. “It’s that simple. I was cutting down to two meals a day.”
Now, to make sure this old soldier eats well, Meals on Wheel isn’t just going an extra mile. It’s going an extra five miles.
Briny Breezes is south of Lantana, the agency’s southern boundary, but Ed Manley is being served anyway, thanks to the Quantum Foundation, which gave Meals on Wheels a $75,000 grant last year to support its Meals For Veterans outreach. Most of the agency’s 95 vets, who had been paying about $7 a meal or less on a sliding scale, now pay nothing.
The organization’s $1 million annual budget comes primarily from donations and grants. Meals on Wheels of the Palm Beaches receives no government funding.
John Sallee is a courier, but because there’s not an official delivery route this far south, he delivers Manley’s meals.
“It’s very satisfying work,” Sallee says. “You get to know people like Ed. I’ve been doing this 2½ years, and I can only think of one person I didn’t like. And he moved into assisted living.”
After delivering the quiche, plus a frozen meal for the weekend and a big loaf of bread, Sallee didn’t speed off. He waited, smiling and nodding as Manley talked on. He listened.
“That’s our More Than A Meal model,” says Pam Calzadilla, the organization’s president and CEO. “You’re not just getting a UPS truck dropping a bunch of meals off. It’s making sure they’re well and giving them that social interaction.
“We provide check-in and report back to clients’ families. And we call 911 on occasion as well. Too many times.”
For clients who have pets, there’s Animeals. During hurricane seasons, there’s a box of shelf food to last three days. On birthdays, there’s a cake.
Before the COVID pandemic struck, meals were delivered five days a week. Now John Sallee and his colleagues arrive on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only, with frozen meals to tide the clients over.
“We’ve had trouble getting some foods from vendors,” Calzadilla reports, “and we’ve had to change some of our meals because they had no stock or had furloughed employees.”
Manley is Briny Breezes’ only Meals On Wheels client, so far.
“Now that we’re there, we can accept more seniors who need the service,” Emerick says. “This is how we build. We find a need, then another, and establish a volunteer route.”
For Manley, old age seemed to come suddenly.
“Two years ago, I was hanging out with 45-year-olds,” he told Sallee. “I had a 6-year-old Mini Cooper with 9,000 miles on it. I went to Publix, the bank and the hospital. But I fell asleep twice while I was eating and woke up 45 minutes later, so I quit driving. I was afraid I could hurt somebody.”
Born in the Bronx in 1921, Manley grew up in an orphanage called Sheltering Arms at 129th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem.
“They used to give us two nickels every Wednesday to go down to the YMCA on the trolley,” he recalled, “and I’d hang on the back of the trolley to save the nickels.”
Before joining the Army, he played trumpet in an 11-piece band. In the Army, he played the afternoon dances for the noncoms.
After the war, he was a New York State trooper, and 40 years ago he arrived in Briny Breezes on a sailboat from Ocean City, Maryland.
Dorothy Ann died in 1984, after 31 years of marriage. His two sons and a daughter are far away. He lives alone.
“I’m a widower,” he said, “so I was cooking for myself.”
On Jan. 3, 1945, Ed Manley was wounded in Bastogne, taken prisoner and imprisoned in Stalag 12A for 4½ months, until he escaped.
He has two Bronze Stars, from Normandy and Bastogne, a Purple Heart and two presidential citations.
In 1994, he jumped out of an airplane once more, to mark the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
He was 72.
In 2009, he had a triple heart bypass.
“But I look around and I see other people,” he said, “and every time I think I’m hurting, I see how the powers-that-be have taken care of me. How many people live to be in their 90s?”
On Nov. 5, he will turn 99.
“Meals On Wheels was a big surprise,” he said, clutching this day’s delivery. “They surprise me all the time with this stuff.”
And then, turning to go back inside, out of the midday heat, he paused.
“When I was in shape,” he added, “you didn’t mess with me.”
To learn more, call 561-802-6979 or visit www.mealsonwheelspalmbeaches.org.