Margaret Toy; Ran Meals On Wheels

Posted: October 20, 1989

Margaret Toy, 92, who directed the country's first Meals on Wheels program, died Sunday at Riddle Memorial Hospital. She was a longtime resident of Drexel Hill.

Mrs. Toy helped give birth to what is now Meals on Wheels on a cold January day in 1954, when she organized a group of "platter angels" who piled into a car with hot meals they kept warm in newspaper-lined cardboard boxes.

That winter day, 10 needy people in Kensington ate warm suppers.

Since then, millions of people have been fed in communities across America.

"At first, we didn't know anything about cooking meals or delivering them," Mrs. Toy recalled in a 1982 interview. " . . . Some of our first volunteers were ladies who wore white gloves and came in Cadillacs."

A conscientious, organized woman with a penetrating gaze and an air of determination, Mrs. Toy worked as director of the meals program for 11 years and stayed involved in the program after her retirement, until illness interceded about four years ago.

In the Philadelphia region, Mrs. Toy helped organize programs in Montgomery and Delaware Counties. She also became an active speaker and adviser as one meals program sprung up after another in one town after the next.

"She was a very, very giving woman," said Kathryn Woodroffe, a co-worker and friend for many years. "She helped everybody. . . . And whatever she did, she sank her teeth in it."

Mrs. Toy came to helping others after troubled times of her own.

Born in Paterson, N.J., and educated in Philadelphia public schools, the former Margaret Moffat was a minister's daughter who graduated from Westminister College in New Wilmington, Pa., and started a career as a research chemist at Sharp & Dohme.

Several years later, she married Clarence Toy, a science teacher at South Philadelphia High School for Boys.

But her husband died after a marriage of six years.

"When my husband died, I was very bitter, very distraught," Mrs. Toy recalled in a newspaper interview.

Mrs. Toy had no desire to resume the chemistry research she had conducted before she married. She was "wandering around, doing nothing" - as she once

put it - when she met a woman who persuaded her to teach a Bible class at the Lighthouse Settlement House on Lehigh Avenue in Kensington.

"Before that, I would see a lot of miserable men, drunk on the street corners, and I couldn't understand why my husband had been taken. When I started at the Lighthouse, I loved it. I found there were people who needed me," Mrs. Toy said in the 1982 interview.

So began more than 30 years at the Lighthouse.

Starting as a volunteer, Mrs. Toy went on to work as a staff family social worker. Over the years - while also earning a degree in social work at University of Pennsylvania - she was a director of the Lighthouse music school and contributed to programs of all kinds at the community service center.

"She always kept an apartment in Kensington," remembered Edith Bulow, a friend of Mrs. Toy's since the 1940s. "She believed that a person who helped people should live where they lived. She was a very thoughtful person."

By the mid-1950s, Mrs. Toy's foremost undertaking was the meals program.

The program was conceived by Paul Jans, director of the Lighthouse, after four students from England were invited to come to the United States to study social work and told him about a meals program started during World War II by the British Women's Voluntary Service for Civil Defense.

Jans asked Mrs. Toy to start a similar program in Kensington.

"I directed the first program (in the United States). I delivered the first meal, but I did not found it," Mrs. Toy said in an interview.

Nonetheless, many in the area, and around the country, often looked on Mrs. Toy as the mother of the meals program.

And even in her 80s, Mrs. Toy was a vocal participant when Congress considered whether to provide federal funding for Meals on Wheels. She was adamant that bureaucrats keep out of it, maintaining that their involvement would diminish volunteer efforts.

"Meals on Wheels was her baby," said Woodroffe, her longtime associate and friend.

Also active in the old United Fund, Mrs. Toy campaigned in Torch Drives for many years and served on the United Fund's Delaware County Women's Committee and as a tour guide and speaker.

She was a board member of the Kensington Branch of the YWCA and was a volunteer with Emergency Aid, a member of the Regional Comprehensive Health Planning Council and a representative to the Philadelphia City Panhellenic organization.

For her efforts, Mrs. Toy was honored by the Chapel of the Four Chaplains, the U.S. Commission on Ecumenical Missions and Relations, and Alpha Gamma Delta International Sorority.

She also was honored as Woman of the Year in 1970 by the United Fund's Women's Council.

Services were yesterday at Westminster Cemetery.

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