Helping Hands-Wake Forest Proves Small Gestures Reap Large Rewards

Helping Hands logosHelping Hands-Wake Forest might seem typical of a community group – “a local group of volunteers delivering meals to families in need due to illness, hospitalization, or physical hardship,” according to its Facebook page – but it is much more in what it is not.

“This isn’t a business. It’s not a formal entity,” founder and Wake Forest resident Courtney Selna adds. “It’s a community-based group. You just kind of step in and help.”

Selna is a former board member of North East Wake Backpack Buddies and, with her husband Mike, has been a foster parent. Always striving to make a difference, she started Helping Hands-Wake Forest after a high school friend from California sent her an invitation to Helping Hands-Corona.

“Just out of curiosity, I clicked on it and thought, ‘What a beautiful thing,’ ” Selna said. “Many of us are fortunate that if something happens, if we get ill, if our kids get ill, we’ve got friends, work friends, a church group, whatever that can help with meals.”

However, she also knows there’s a percentage of the population that doesn’t have those safety nets.

“When dealing with a chronic illness, sometimes favors are used up. Or maybe you need people to run to the grocery store for you,” Selna said. “The whole premise behind this is for community members to help community members, doing something as simple as providing a meal.”

Helping Hands-The Pietrowski Family

The Pietrowski Family (clockwise from left): Hunter, Adam (dad), Kyran, Nathasha,
Dakota (front), and Tiffany (mom, center).

The Pietrowski Family has received more than 20 meals since a friend responded to one of Selna’s Facebook posts and nominated them for meal delivery. Thirteen-year-old Hunter, an eighth-grader at Wake Forest Middle School, is battling brain cancer, and in August, he had radiation treatments five days a week. His mother, Tiffany, the mother of four, spent a great deal of time at the hospital with him.

“(The meals) helped immensely,” Pietrowski said. “It provided us with delicious homecooked meals a few times a week while we were caring for our son. It relieved the stress of having to buy groceries and prepare meals.”

“(Fresh food) makes a huge difference, as do the volunteers,” Selna said. “The volunteers do it because they love to cook and because they want to help.”

One such volunteer is Christy Van Ness. Self-employed as a caregiver/nanny and personal chef/cook, Van Ness got involved immediately. She and Selna knew each other from Backpack Buddies.

“When I saw what Courtney had posted on Facebook, I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the next thing I want to do,’ ” Van Ness said. “I love cooking, so it’s an easy way to offer help with something I know how to do.”

Selna estimates that 25 percent of her volunteers don’t cook, but that’s not an obstacle. Stacey Moritz, owner of The Lemon Tree in downtown Wake Forest, reached out to Selna – one of her long-time customers – and suggested how she could help.

Helping Hands-Food from Lemon Tree

A chicken pot pie and summer berry salad is one
of the meals volunteers can purchase at a discount
from The Lemon Tree in Downtown Wake Forest.
Photos Courtesy of Courtney Selna
and Helping Hands-Wake Forest

“I said if we can help when people don’t want to do the cooking themselves, I’d be happy to put together some specially priced packages that people can buy,” Moritz said.

Moritz now develops meals based on the size of the family plus dietary needs and restrictions. A typical meal is a chicken pot pie with salad and dessert, or it may be a pasta dish with salad and bread. The meals are such that the volunteers bring it home, bake it and then deliver it to the family, hot and ready to serve.

Scheduling deliveries through Meal Train online ( has made it easy for all involved. After a volunteer schedules a delivery, Meal Train emails reminders and details. Selna also texts the volunteer and the family on the day of the delivery to introduce the two parties and provide contact information.

“Everyone feels that it’s a pretty good system,” Selna said. “There’s so much negativity and craziness out there right now that I just wanted to do something positive.”

Selna’s innate positivity and generosity is reflected in how people see her and Helping Hands.

“Courtney’s a great lady. She walks the walk,” Van Ness said. “I think (Helping Hands) is a friendly gesture from the community. For me, it’s just a small thing I can do to help somebody.”

Moritz sees the benefit of the extra hands doing a necessary task.

“It really is a huge help to put a good meal on the table for someone who’s struggling every day, trying to keep up with everything,” she said. “We’re just happy to help, and I’m thrilled to be able to work with Courtney on this.”

Pietrowski’s feelings mirror Selna’s positivity.

“We were overwhelmed with the generosity and support of strangers,” she said. “It really warms our hearts that people still go above and beyond for complete strangers. We consider them family and hope to return the gesture to another family very soon.”

Selna just wants to do what she can.

“We’re not solving cancer or world peace,” she said. “It’s a very little thing that we’re doing.”

To volunteer or to nominate a family for this “very little thing,” call Courtney Selna at (919) 369-7086, visit the Helping Hands-Wake Forest Facebook page, or email her at

— Jeanne E. Fredriksen • • October 2016