After Kate Maxwell’s firefighter fiancé died in the 2016 Canby Park fire, she crawled into a tunnel of grief and substance abuse.
Nine months later, when she got sober with the help of her parents, she was overwhelmed with the amount of love and support she had been shown during that time.
Her best friend, Meg Hurst, and others came to check on her, cooked for her and her kids, cleaned the house and did a number of chores and errands on her behalf while Maxwell sat on the sofa “comatose with grief” after the death of Capt. Chris Leach.
“The community totally surrounded me and showed me so much love and support,” Maxwell said. “When I kind of got back on my feet my thought process was ‘I’ve got to find a way to give back.'”
The result was Wingmom, a company that offers all kinds of services including giving kids rides, doing laundry, cleaning, organizing, senior care and even cooking a dish for an overwhelmed mom to take to a party.
The six-year-old company had total sales of $1.1 million in 2022, all while employing an army of moms who are able to to work as much or as little as they want for wages that start at $19 an hour.
“We have this amazing byproduct that I never thought about in that we’re taking women that wouldn’t traditionally be employable because they are stay at home moms or they are trying to support their family through a second job and we are giving them jobs because of our flexibility,” Maxwell said.
Wingmom has franchises in Middletown, serving all the way to Dover; southern Pennsylvania; Bucks County, Pennsylvania; Catskills, New York; and, soon, Washington Township, New Jersey.
In total, the franchises serve more than 5,000 customers with 250 Wingmoms — and as of 2020 some Wingdads. The original north Delaware franchise alone has 125 Wingmoms and Wingdads on their payrolls.
Maxwell said she never expected the growth that the company has seen.
“I thought that Wingmom was just going to be a way to make some extra cash while helping moms with their day-to-day while I figured out my next move,” Maxwell said. “And it ended up becoming this large company.”
The company has a lot of vocal fans praising it on social media.
Sarah Goldfarb Weeden hires Wingmom to clean her house and has found Vickey Smith, who runs Wingmom’s home management department, to be remarkably more reliable than other cleaning companies.
But Goldfarb Weeden’s favorite Wingmom story took place on her first day back at work after taking leave when her youngest daughter needed major surgery at CHOP in Philly.
“She was finally back at daycare and I got a call from them that she had a major diaper blowout and her outfit was ruined,” Goldfarb Weeden said. “I was not on top of it and didn’t pack an extra set of clothes for her that day so I had Wingmom run to Target, buy her a new outfit and deliver it to the daycare.”
Maxwell started Wingmom with Hurst, who Maxwell calls her own personal wingmom.
The name is a twist on pilot terminology and the way guys will call a buddy their wingman when they’re heading out to drink. It’s meant to evoke the image of someone looking out for you, even protecting you.
“We all need a wingmom,” Maxwell said.
Wingmom’s first services
Hurst left the company in 2020 to focus on her Sweet Lucy’s ice cream store and Cajun-sno food truck.
The company’s first offers to help included providing rides for kids.
“I was a single mom and couldn’t pick both kids up at the same time from two different schools,” she said.
Requests for help started coming in and included doing laundry, errand running, grocery shopping before pandemic’s delivery boom — the kind of things moms needed each day.
“We expanded, very grudgingly I might add because I never wanted to own a cleaning company, into cleaning and home organizing because we saw the necessity,” she said.
One of Wingmom’s messages is that you don’t have to have a clean house in order to have a cleaner, Maxwell said, and you don’t have to have your house organized to have an organizer.
“We’re a judgment-free zone,” Maxwell said. “You’ll never see a before and after picture on social media because I think people are like, ‘Oh, I could never have a room organizer here because they would feel so judgey about my space.'”
Chief Wingmom organizer Vickey Smith was aware of the company as soon as it opened, partly because the man she was dating at the time knew Maxwell and said good things about her.
Smith hired Wingmom to make a cheesy chicken dip she needed to have for a party and to set up the hall where her family was holding a luncheon after a grandmother’s funeral.
She thought about picking up some of their small jobs, such as helping with parties, for additional income, but her schedule didn’t allow it.
Then Smith was laid off in January 2020. She thought she might take a few months to get her life in order and tackle projects she was too busy to handle while working full time.
But when Maxwell advertised for help, Smith decided to apply.
Wingmom workers are required to undergo background checks, be fingerprinted and trained in the Wingmom Way. The company is licensed, insured and incorporated in Delaware.
Traditional 9-to-5 jobs as well as smaller jobs are offered through Wingmom. The work is posted on an app’s bulletin board that allows workers to see what’s needed and accept the job.
When Maxwell realized in 2020 that more people were staying home and had jobs they wanted done around the house, she added Wingdads to help install shelves, hang mirrors and more.
Some one-off jobs become regular gigs for Wingmoms.
Customer Marisa Pennell of North Wilmington, a married mom with three children and a demanding job, now has a long-standing arrangement with Smith, who has helped her pack one house, move and then unpack and organize the new house.
She books Smith for four hours at least every other week, often working alongside her so they can get things done more quickly.
Pennell followed Wingmom on Facebook and hired the company first for house cleaning.
“That kind of morphed into Vickey basically becoming a kind of household manager,” Pennell said. “She has an incredible knack for walking into a space and quickly making sense of all the commotion and putting some order to the chaos.”
Pennell said she can see Smith thinking.
“She’ll take a step back and be like, ‘Hold on a second,'” Pennell said. “And she’ll usually get out a measuring tape. I start kind of looking around. My husband laughs. He’s like, ‘Oh, no, what are we doing now?'”
Pennell says she also appreciates Smith’s flexibility.
That included asking Smith to deal with one job and then having to ask her to pivot and help repack the basement she’d just unpacked because it had flooded and they needed to redo flooring — which included ripping out the carpet Smith had just cleaned.
Pennell also has hired a Wingdad to work on her deck.
Wingmom fills a real need in the community and is basically a one-stop shop for overwhelmed moms, Pennell said.
Maxwell tries to add services where she sees those needs.
Wingmom expanded into senior support as a result of Maxwell’s mom having Alzheimer’s and her father, former state legislator and New Castle County Council member Bob Maxwell, being diagnosed with dementia.
She realized families dealing with eldercare issues needed support.
Senior support is now one of Wingmom’s largest services, providing nonmedical home management and personal assistance. The company doesn’t require minimum employment times.
Many families don’t need or can’t afford four hours of help, and only want someone to get mom up in the morning and feed her breakfast or some other service that requires only a little time, Maxwell said.
Ann Chance of Wilmington, was Wingmom’s first senior client.
Her daughter, Anna Steppich, who lives in Catskills, New York, was aware of Wingmom because she hired the company to deliver groceries.
She realized, though, that her mom, 87, still likes to get out, even though she no longer drives and has had several health issues, so she asked for help with that.
When Wingmom Audrey Dibartolomeo saw the job come up on Wingmom’s board, she realized Chance lived across the street from her and jumped on it.
For the last year, Dibartolomeo and Chance have spent three or four hours together once a week for lunch and to go shopping.
Chance says she likes to go to her favorite store, which is Boscov’s, the Dollar Store and “The Acme.” She likes eating at Panera, Pizza by Elizabeths, Zoup and Eggspectation.
Steppich said the weekly outings have helped Chance’s mental health 100% and she can tell the difference when something like a storm prevents an outing.
“I was surprised how far she’s leaned into it,” Steppich said. “She was a little hesitant at first to go out or to have people do things for her way back in the beginning, but now she’s a cheerleader for them.”
“If anybody needs help,” Chance said, “you don’t have to be a senior or anything. They’ll help you.”
Steppich has been so impressed with the company that she’s started her own franchise in Sullivan County in New York with about 35 employees.
“I opened Aug. 1 and I haven’t slowed down,” she said.
Vickey Smith’s first job for Wingmom was watching two boys and making sure they got on the school bus in the morning because the dad had to leave for work early.
She’s also helped at parties, picked up cupcakes for a mom who forgot about a school party, and hemmed pants for a man to wear to a funeral the next day. She prefers house-based jobs such as organizing, cleaning, packing, putting together beds and rearranging rooms.
Wingmom will also do whole house cleanouts, which are usually for people whose parents have died or gone into a nursing facility.
“Going through and unpacking your childhood home is very emotional, especially if you’re in that grieving process,” Smith said.
The company meets with the family to determine what they want set aside for them, what they want to give away and what they want to throw away.
Smith now works four to five days a week for Wingmom and likes its family atmosphere.
“We all also take care of each other,” Smith said, “like when my son had spine surgery in August of 21. Wingmoms got together to send gift cards for food or things like that. We’ve done meal trains for one of our Wingmoms who just had a baby. “
The company is involved in different charities, including substance abuse recovery programs and domestic violence programs.
“We are very big on ‘it takes a village,'” Smith said. “We’re all pretty much parents and there’s a lot of us who are single moms who know the struggle. Having a job that allows us to drop our kids off at school, go to work and pick them up when they’re done, it’s huge.”
Maxwell’s two children are teenagers, one a sophomore at Salesianum School and one an eighth grader at St Edmund’s.
Last summer when the oldest one turned 14, she started Wingteens for jobs such as weeding, spreading mulch, yard cleanup, helping organize garages and breaking down old play sets.
Maxwell hopes one of her sons will want to take over the business.
The company is sponsoring a Mother’s Day contest inviting people to nominate their personal wingmom. The prize for the winning entry is a $250 VISA gift card. It starts April 12, and details will show up on the Wingmom website.
“The whole point is we want to get as many women in the community as possible talking about how other women are helping them because, yes, we’re a fee for service company, but everybody’s got somebody in their life that will drop anything for them,” Maxwell said. “We want to highlight those people.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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