For the month of March (also known as Irish American Heritage Month) IrishCentral is tapping into the heartbeat of the Irish American community. The Unsung Heroes series features inspiring individuals from across the US who do extraordinary work in their communities and respective fields. From advocates to artists, from local legends to dedicated educators; from a high school baseball team to dynamo nuns in their 80s, these people are making a difference and to them we tip our hats in thanks.
William McCormick, a 71-year-old from Roanoke, VA made headlines last year for a simple act of selflessness. During the sequester, when funding was cut for Meals on Wheels and the Administration on Aging, McCormick gave up his weekly visit from the service so that someone else more in need would be able to eat.
In interviews, McCormick credited his working-class upbringing in Covington, VA where he said neighbors took care of neighbors – something that has remained stuck in his mind throughout his life.
“Both my parents worked in the mill,” he told the Huffington Post. “For people in the neighborhood who were hungry we’d make up two or three bags of groceries, put $5 or $10 in it, set it on the porch, knock on the door and leave. We wouldn’t tell ‘em who did it.”
His nomination for our Unsung Heroes campaign is not surprising. Most people would consider the senior citizen highly deserving of the accolade. Seventy-years-old at the time, he was living alone in a one-bedroom apartment in a six-story building where only about 40 of the building’s 144 units were occupied.
Since 1972 the Administration on Aging has provided federal funding for senior nutrition, and today volunteers from some 5,000 Meals On Wheels affiliates across the country distribute a million meals a day.
When it was announced that federal funding for senior nutrition had been reduced by budget cuts, instead of thinking about what this would mean for him, McCormick took a step back and looked at the bigger picture. The cuts would mean less food for old people, so this unsung hero began to question whether or not he deserved to be receiving the free meals. The White House estimated the cuts would mean 4 million fewer meals for seniors, while the Meals On Wheels Association of America put the loss at 19 million meals.
McCormick had no car and was unable walk long distances, but sometimes got rides to the grocery store and the food pantry, and had a small stockpile of canned goods sitting on a wooden desk in his living room. He decided that was enough.
In an interview last year on his selfless gesture the big-hearted pensioner said, “I thought about it for two or three days and I said, ‘Right now my health’s pretty good,’ and so I just gave it up,” he said. “I just couldn’t bear the thought of me having something to eat and maybe somebody else needing it and they couldn’t apply for it so I just voluntarily gave it up.”
“I’ve run into people who’ve been a whole lot worse off than I was,” McCormick said. He earned an Associate’s Degree in Business Management in the 1980s and subsequently oversaw operations for a series of fast food restaurants, a hotel and a retail store.
A series of strokes and a mild heart attack left him partially disabled. Despite suffering from asthma, arthritis and diabetes and relying on an electric wheelchair to get around because he can’t walk long distances, he still decided there were people more in need of the hot meals than he was.
At the time, he said he missed his hot meals and also the “super nice” volunteers who brought them.
Whoever got to eat thanks to McCormick’s sacrifice probably never knew it, but that’s the way he wanted it. Just like the people who got bags of groceries from his mom and dad, who also kept their charity secret.