Most people know him as Mr. Tom, the one who brings the goodies.
There are doughnuts for the nurses who’ve worked through the night at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, flowers for seniors at a center and lots and lots of canned goods, breads and other items that will go a long way to fill a hungry belly for those in need of a hot meal.
For the past 17 years, Tom Umstead, 82, of Sandy Springs has been collecting the discards from groceries and warehouse distributors and delivering these items to charities and other organizations around metro Atlanta that serve children, seniors and families.
Umstead was recently selected to receive the 2016 AARP Georgia Andrus Award for Community Service, which is the senior association’s most prestigious and visible state volunteer award for community service.
Leaders praised him for improving the community by getting in-kind donations and giving them to seniors, children and families, and also for encouraging countless others to volunteer. There are more than 100 volunteers who help distribute items through the Mr. Tom’s Heart charity organization.
“This award acts as a symbol to the public that we can all work together for positive social change,” says Debra Tyler-Horton, AARP Georgia state director. “AARP has long valued the spirit of volunteerism and the important contributions volunteers make to their communities, neighbors and the programs they serve.”
Recipients across the nation were chosen for their ability to enhance the lives of AARP members and prospective members, improve the community in or for which the work was performed, and inspire others to volunteer.
The award caught Umstead off-guard. “I’m just an old man,” said the soon-to-be-83-year-old retired marketing executive from Blue Cross Blue Shield. “This is just what I love to do.”
This is how Mr. Tom’s Heart got started.
The day after Umstead retired, he was at his local Publix grocery store and saw an employee filling a shopping cart full with expired items to be discarded. He was told that the store could no longer give these things away because people were reselling them.
Umstead asked if he could take on the challenge of picking up the items and giving them out to those in need.
In the next six months, he had a nonprofit organization and was collecting from that Publix store seven days a week. It’s since grown to multiple Publix stores, and also Kroger, Trader Joe’s and Costco. His charity distributes groceries, toiletries and other items directly to Ronald McDonald Houses, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, children’s homes, adult day care centers and senior centers, homeless shelters, schools, community centers and others.
His 100 volunteers keep the organization purring like clockwork. Most of them are older — in their 40s and 50s — and include many retirees or empty nesters with newfound time on their hands. In addition to the deliveries, they also read stories, engage in conversation and build bonds with the children, adults and seniors served by these organizations.
“My wife tells me to watch my time and energy. I can get real attached to some of these people,” Umstead said.
Umstead has been married to Lucrecia, 78, for 57 years. They are the parents of three grown children and have two grandchildren.
Umstead, who loves the deliveries, still loads up his own Toyota Camry four times a week, making morning rounds to deliver doughnuts, flowers, food and other items. He most enjoys his visits to families staying at the Ronald McDonald House who are a long way from home with sick children.
“I love it when I get to see them finally go home,” he said.
Umstead says he keeps going by staying in shape and watching what he eats. He regularly swims laps, runs the Peachtree Road Race every year and tries to eat a healthy diet — lots of salads and no junk food. More than that, he loves what he does, and when he can’t do it anymore, he hopes one of his three adult children will continue the work.
“This is a win, win, win. The stores win, I win and the people who are served win,” Umstead said.
MEET THE AWARD RECIPIENT
Tom Umstead, 82, of Sandy Springs
Married 57 years to Lucrecia Umstead, 78. They are the parents of three grown children and have two grandchildren.
Director of Mr. Tom’s Heart, a nonprofit organization that has provided help to other charities for 17 years. More than 100 volunteers pick up in-kind donations of groceries, toiletries and other items given by local stores and deliver them directly to Ronald McDonald Houses, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, children’s homes, adult day care centers and senior centers, homeless shelters, schools, community centers and others. Umstead and other volunteers also read stories and build bonds with the children, adults and seniors served by these organizations.
2016 recipient of the AARP Georgia Andrus Award for Community Service
AARP ANDRUS AWARD FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE
Given annually to a volunteer age 50 or older whose service enhances the lives of others and who inspires others to volunteer. This is the AARP’s most prestigious and visible state volunteer award for community service.
Past AARP Georgia Andrus awardees
2015: Sarah Ridgeway, Atlanta. Led volunteer efforts for Hands on Atlanta and as a member of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
2014: Charlie Mendoza, Columbus. Longtime consumer advocate who served on the AARP National Volunteer Board from 1998-2004, and then continued to provide volunteer leadership on the state Executive Council in 2012.
2013: Gary Cecil, Conyers. Provided almost 1,000 volunteer hours to AARP and the DeKalb County community through service to the Lou Walker Senior Center, local faith-based organizations, elected officials and other infinity groups.
2012: Carl Usher, Moultrie. As an advocacy volunteer, he brings together volunteers from southern Georgia to the state Capitol to meet with their legislators. He is also an AARP Driver Safety Zone Coordinator covering 46 counties with 35 volunteer instructors, as well as teaching classes himself.