BRANDON, England — To a certain segment of the population around here, Tandra Thomas is an important figure.
To the aged, the infirm and the homebound, she is the angel who brings the midday meal from time to time.
“This is the one thing I do where I feel I’m helping somebody,” said Thomas, a computer assistant with the 100th Communications Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, about 12 miles south of Brandon.
“This is a personal touch,” she added. “You are actually interacting with people in the community.”
Since she arrived from El Paso, Texas, with her husband, Chief Master Sgt. Raymond Campbell of the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron, in September 2002, she has delivered countless meals to shut-ins.
“She’s a marvelous lady,” said Geoff Kidd, the local organizer of the program. “She’s so reliable, it’s unbelievable.”
Thomas walked into the program at RAF Mildenhall because the 100th Communications Squadron was providing the Meals on Wheels in Brandon with a weekly volunteer for meal delivery on Tuesdays.
She started as a volunteer delivering meals, but became the person in charge of the program for the squadron in February, coordinating to ensure someone is available to fulfill the unit’s weekly obligation. She brought a familiarity with the program to her role.
“Every base I’ve been to, I’ve tried to do Meals on Wheels,” she said.
Meals on Wheels began in Britain during World War II and the blitz of London. The Women’s Volunteer Service for Civil Defense carried meals in mobile canteens to people unable to cook in their bomb-damaged homes.
The first American version of the program began in Philadelphia in 1954. The high school students who delivered the meals were called Platter Angels.
It’s now hard to find a town in the United States or Britain that does not have some version of Meals on Wheels, delivering hot meals to people who cannot cook for themselves or leave their homes.
Kidd said Americans have become an integral part of the local program.
“We do a seven-day-a-week service here, even Christmas,” he said. “Without the Americans, we would not be able to do the Tuesday trip.”
Drivers are given a map and list of people to serve. The list includes special instructions, such as which door to use or whether the person has a hearing or vision problem.
Thomas said the 20 or so elderly people on the route don’t always remember her, but they are a joy to meet. On a recent Tuesday, she stayed a couple minutes at the home of Grace Royal, who proudly gave her age as 101.
“I was born on May 1, 1903,” she said, adding she worked many years for the post office.
“She’s the nicest lady on the route,” said Thomas.
Several of the clients have died during Thomas’ two years with the program, which is always a sad occasion, she said.
The high operations tempo at the base lately has shortened Thomas’s list of volunteers. Her husband secured some additional help from his squadron, including Airman 1st Class Devin Carter, who was delivering meals for the fourth time recently.
“It’s always good to help the community,” she said. “When I see these people, I think of my parents.”
Now, another squadron is taking over responsibility for the effort from the 100th Communications Squadron. The 727th Air Mobility Squadron has stepped up to take charge.
“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” said Senior Airman Danielle Whitfield, who was learning the route on a recent Tuesday. She said it would be a good way to meet people in the local community and do some good.
But Thomas will still participate. She will continue to deliver the meals, just as she has done for two years.
“When you take on something like this,” she said, “you take it on until you [leave] is how I look at it.”