Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Little Meals On Wheels Story

The Meals on Wheels program has been all over the news for the past few weeks or so as it faces possible budget cuts under the new regime in the White House. The proposed cuts would eliminate two block grants that help provide funding for Meals on Wheels, as well as slashing the Department of Health and Human Services budget, a major source of funding for Meals on Wheels programs, which themselves are not federal programs but are run by independent groups and annually feed 2.4 million home bound senior citizens a hot meal five days a week. Call or write to your senators and representative and implore them to vote to keep this program funded. Go ahead, do it right now. I'll wait....

... Now that that bit of housekeeping is done, I have to tell you a personal Meals on Wheels story.

My mom was a longtime Meals on Wheels volunteer. She began delivering meals shortly after she and my dad moved to the little town of Nevada in 1979, and she continued to do it for well over 20 years, including serving on the Board. Volunteers typically delivered meals one day a week in teams of two, and over the years, various family members would get roped into going with my mom to help deliver meals when her delivery partner was unavailable. 

My mom enjoyed delivering meals. Many of her friends delivered, too, and they would laugh and talk as they were getting their meals ready to deliver. The Nevada program was run from the hospital at that time, and the volunteers would get the hot meals (which were in styrofoam carryout containers) for their route from the kitchen and load them into coolers and get sacks with condiments, bread, plastic cutlery and the like for each person. Once they were loaded, each team delivered the meals on their route, then returned the empty coolers to the hospital kitchen. It was a process that took about an hour or so. 

The only thing about being a Meals on Wheels volunteer that she disliked was when it was her week to have the "dratted book." When it was your turn to have the book (dratted or otherwise), you were responsible for finding substitutes when needed and for making reminder phone calls to the deliverers ("regulars" usually didn't require reminder calls), and you had to be at the hospital kitchen every day that week to make sure all routes were covered (and was another reason family members might have gotten called to action).

Occasionally, my mom would mention an upcoming estate auction she was looking forward to, because she "delivered Meals to this woman, and she had some beautiful antiques." Of course, we didn't hesitate to jokingly accuse her of being a Meals on Wheels volunteer only so she could scope out the antiques, but the truth was, she enjoyed doing a service that was so obviously necessary. In fact, it meant life or death for some people who received meals, as it was most likely the only real meal they ate (and the meals were usually substantial enough that a recipient could eat half for lunch and half for supper). 

When delivering meals, one partner would drive and the other would run the food to the house, and one particular day, my mother was the one carrying the food. At this time, one of the stops on their weekly route was at a senior housing facility consisting of one story duplexes with small yards and a common parking lot in front of them. When the car stopped in the parking lot, my mom climbed out and got the styrofoam box containing the meal out of the cooler. She was carrying it across the parking lot, holding it with one hand on the hinged side while she carried the paper bag of condiments with the other hand, and didn't notice the concrete parking stop until she tripped over it and went flying into the little yard of freshly cut grass. 

Trouper that she was, my mom managed to keep a hold on the styrofoam box, landing on the ground with the box in her outstretched arm. From the car, her friend called out, "Are you okay?! Are you okay?!" 

"I think so," she said as she struggled to get up. Then she looked at the box she was carrying and saw that all the food had shot to the front of the box, and some of it was sticking out of the opening. "The food's all squished to one side, and some of it's coming out of the box."

"Poke it back in," said her friend, so my mom poked it back in and went to the door. 

The elderly woman who was receiving the meal was practically blind and very hard of hearin, and when my mom would deliver to her, she would set the meal up for the woman on the table and lay out all the condiments, then my mom would tell her what was in the container.

As the woman sat down at the table, my mom opened the container and saw the jumbled mess of food and shouted, "Well, your chicken is here, and your potatoes are here and..." she stopped when she realized that along with the vegetables (mixed with some of the potatoes and a little gravy), there were also a few grass clippings.

So what did she do about it? She salted and peppered the woman's food, helped her with her napkin, arranged her bread and dessert, and scurried out the door to the car.

There is no real moral to this story. My mom continued to deliver Meals on Wheels for many years. She never again tripped over the parking stop in the Senior Citizen housing parking lot. She continued to hate the "dratted book" until she finally resigned from her duties for health reasons.

If you have some time in your schedule, you might want to try your hand at delivering Meals on Wheels to a home bound senior citizen in need of a hot meal and a some interaction with the outside world. I guarantee this story will cause you to walk very carefully as you make your deliveries.  Try it and see!

p.s.: Your local Meals On Wheels will also gladly accept your monetary donations.