Tom Umstead is the type of person who can turn a newspaper’s photo op into an opportunity for charitable giving. That’s exactly what he did one recent morning.
Umstead visited the Ronald McDonald House near Scottish Rite to have his portrait made to run with this article. Instead of showing up wearing nice clothes and primped for a picture, he appeared wearing a T-shirt and with his car’s trunk full of food, flowers and baby-care items he’d collected for the charity.
Umstead, or “Mr. Tom” to those that know him, isn’t your typical part-time community volunteer. At age 82, he gives his time to several local charities and says he’s involved in one volunteer job or another seven days a week.
“I’m living an unbelievable life,” said Umstead. “Over the years I’ve built so many great relationships.”
The Dorothy C. Benson Senior Multipurpose Complex in Sandy Springs reports he logged more than 5,000 hours of volunteer time from 2010 to 2015 at their facility alone. “He’s a volunteer legend,” Benson employee Bane Stojanovic said.
Umstead now volunteers at the Benson Center at least three days a week, at Scottish Rite children’s hospital and the Ronald McDonald Houses on other days, and still finds time to deliver donated food to missions and soup kitchens.
“He’s amazing,” said Marissa Greider, director of development at the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities. “Out of all our volunteers, he is the most regular and frequent. He has developed great bonds with staff and other volunteers.”
“What’s so incredible is that he came up with it himself,” Greider said. “Mr. Tom doesn’t look for appreciation. He does it because he finds gratification.”
Ronald McDonald House Charities builds facilities that house families with children who are receiving medical care. The facilities provide family members with a comfortable place to stay near the hospitals where children are receiving treatment. Metro Atlanta is home to two of the 356 Ronald McDonald Houses around the world.
Umstead says the Ronald McDonald houses are special to him. “I love children,” he said. “If I ever have a down day, I can go and be happy real quick. I get so much more out of them than they can get out of me. … I’m just an old guy. You see them smile. They don’t expect anything. They just want you to play with them.”
About 15 years ago, Umstead started collecting extra food from a Publix grocery store and delivering it to the Ronald McDonald houses. At first he was just gathering the day-old bread, rolls, doughnuts and muffins that would have been thrown away. Then, the store started giving him more and more food and eventually flowers. Not long after that, Costco, Kroger and Trader Joe’s joined in, providing Umstead with enough goods to deliver donations seven days a week.
Around the same time, Umstead and his wife, Lucrecia, began spending time with children at the Ronald McDonald Houses. She would read to the kids while Umstead would get down to the ground and play with them. “I do arts and crafts. I play. Unfortunately I’m not good at the Nintendo Wii games,” Umstead said. “I tell them I’m trying.”
Other Umstead family members are involved with local charities. The Umsteads’ daughter, Lee, works at the Ronald McDonald House. Their oldest son, who is also named Tom, helps Umstead deliver contributions.