Rolling With the Meals (ON Wheels)!
Back in April, I did a special edition of Who’s Talking with Stacey Yusko, the Director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels program. Imagine my surprise when earlier this month she invited me to participate in their “Big Wheels Drive Meals on Wheels” event. So today, I had the opportunity to accompany two volunteers on their regular route and deliver meals to 11 homebound program participants in our community.
What an experience! I linked up with Pam Drake and Mary Reeve at Binkley Baptist Church and loaded up the meals for the Wednesday stops on Route #1. We had Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and okra, rolls, fruit, cookies, juice and milk, all tailored to the participant’s preferences. There were also special items for those who were diabetic. It not only looked tasty but the packaging was very functional.
We loaded the coolers into Pam’s car and started out on our route. I asked Pam how long she had been a volunteer and she said since 1979. Our program in Chapel-Carrboro is celebrating its 35th anniversary, so Pam is goes almost back to the beginning. Mary indicated she had been a volunteer for about four years and that she and Pam have been partners for almost three. When Pam can’t make it Mary recruits her husband Roscoe.
As we drove from house to house, the route notebook had all of the important information we needed and included special instructions. From the first house on, my reaction was how amazing the interaction was between the volunteers and participants. I was introduced to each, and Mary asked them how they were doing, and engaged in unhurried small talk with those she knew desired it. There were hugs and pats and the smiles were just amazing. We had one participant who was not home and when we returned to Binkley, Pam told Stacey so that she could make a follow up phone call, just to make sure everything was OK.
These volunteers are special. They are not just delivering meals, but a lot of human kindness too. There are about 100 volunteers working nine routes, and some do more than one day a week. The nine routes cover over 800 miles each week and the volunteers use their own vehicles to make the deliveries. I also learned that this is an every weekday operation, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. The meals are prepared at K&W Cafeteria and Nantucket Café and each day, homemade desserts are part of the meals.
As our Meal on Wheels program receives no Federal or state funding, they are able to be flexible on the criteria for receiving a meal. They try to include all with a need, such as a disability or health issue, who are not able to prepare a meal, and it is regardless of age. Participants only pay fees based on their ability.
My time with Pam and Mary flew by and after we unloaded the coolers and said our goodbyes, I drove away reflecting on how blessed we are to have programs like Meals on Wheels and the special volunteers who make them what they are. It was so clear how much the contact with a volunteer meant to the people I met today. It was also significant that the volunteers knew the habits of the participants and could look for things that might be out of the ordinary. We all know good, wholesome food is always a special treat, but being a blessing to others is a treat that’s really, really special.