Barbara Antley: A Legacy of Love, Compassion and Service
If you’ve ever spent time on the Open Hand campus, you’ve seen Barbara Antley. Whether in person, loading meals into her trunk to deliver on her route each week, or adorning our walls, where photos of her – cooler bag slung happily over her shoulder or in warm embrace with one of her clients – are a daily reminder of the thousands of hours of selfless service given over the years by our dedicated volunteers.
Barbara’s storied “career” at Open Hand began when her oldest son went away to college. He had packed meals with classmates in high school, but even after he graduated, Barbara would see an occasional Open Hand email. “I really missed him and wanted something to do to take my mind off of his being away, so I started volunteering with Open Hand to feel closer to him.”
That was 23 years ago, and Barbara is still going strong.
“Volunteering’s just been that one constant in my life, no matter what I am going through,” Barbara explains, “and Open Hand has always been the thing that made me feel like I had something important to do.”
Growing up, she watched her father dedicate his time volunteering with Meals on Wheels America, which he stuck with until his 90s. So it stood to reason that, as the mother of three sons, Barbara would have her youngest accompany her on her routes when he was little. “To me, it changes the world person by person, and I wanted my sons to experience those personal connections you make with people…to see the faces of my wonderful clients – that’s what makes the difference.” And since Barbara has been regularly delivering meals in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood from the start, she’s made countless of these connections over the years.
One special relationship was with an elderly gentleman named Willy. Since he didn’t have a lot of friends or family nearby, he and Barbara became fast friends. “He’d make me cakes and tell me about what Atlanta was like back in the day. I’d deliver meals every Thursday, and he’d tell me that he’d have such trouble falling asleep on Wednesday because he’d be so excited to see me.”
Even when Willy became very ill and ended up in the hospital, Barbara visited him faithfully, coming by so often that the social worker asked for her input when it was time to decide which nursing home Willy would transition to. She chose one close to her home so she could continue to spend time with him.
In time, Willy asked her to become his power of attorney. “My late husband was a lawyer and also loved Willy, so he drew up the paperwork and we had a nice ceremony.” Barbara continued to visit Willy as often as she could until he passed away, even arranging a small memorial service for him.
Among Barbara’s other special relationships was Frankie, “A little bitty bird of a woman,” Barbara recalls. “She loved her meals, but what she really loved were McDonald’s pancakes. So she’d call me up every once and a while and ask me to bring her some. She loved those pancakes, and of course I wanted to make her happy, so we’d sit on her front porch, chatting over our special treats.”
Barbara’s compassion is palpable. So much so that she’s piqued the interest of several of her friends who have joined her for a route and then ultimately began to deliver on their own. Her partner, Jim, also started volunteering with her about a year ago. “He loves it, and it’s become a nice chance for us to bond.”
Volunteering continues to run in Barbara’s family, too. “My middle son, Trey, approached me before he turned 30 and told me ‘All I want for my birthday is for you to help me find somewhere to volunteer.’” With his mom’s help, he began to engage with Big Brothers Big Sisters. “He mentored this one young man who was struggling at home and in school, and over the years helped him get into one of the best colleges in the country. That happened because of Open Hand – because my son watched me volunteer,” Barbara says proudly.
As she approaches her 69th birthday, Barbara jokes, “I think I’ll be delivering meals with Open Hand until I need my own meals.” Until then, we will continue to be grateful for all the time and care she continues to provide to those we serve.
Thank you, Barbara, for showing our friends and neighbors time and again that food is love.
If you’re interested in joining our incredible team of volunteer delivery drivers, click here to sign up for a route!