A volunteering story by: Diane Damplo

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to volunteer at my city’s senior center to deliver meals to senior shut-ins on the holidays.
The center that provides the meals was and still is a wonderful facility. The delivered meals were gratis but if you came to the facility to eat you were expected to pay a small amount, around $5.00, but the fee was never strictly enforced. In fact, the center has buses that pick up and return seniors who are not able to provide transportation for themselves. Many of the folks carpool. Some in fact walk in – they are local residents. It is great to see that some of the folks are mobile!
We were usually given a map, with addresses for delivery. In many cases the addresses would be close together – for example there would be a small apartment complete with as many as a half a dozen recipients in the same complex. We were pleased when the geography was limited, not so much because we didn’t have to drive as far but since folks were sometimes not at home, it increased the likelihood that we would be able to help someone on that particular stop.
During the holidays the meals are set up with a special presentation. Our delivery would often include a placemat decorated by child at a local school and sometimes we would even deliver a small fresh flower. The hot items and cold items are always packaged separately to ensure freshness.
The meals are generally quite hearty and healthy and are always well appreciated by the recipients. And frankly, they would store well – much like a TV dinner would so that if the recipient wasn’t inclined to eat the meal right away, they could store it for another time.

The Inspiration

When my dad was in his elder years he had meals delivered for a short time. My mother resented it terribly but she simply wasn’t in a position emotionally to prepare a proper meal. Sometimes in turn I resented her for her feelings but in hindsight I understand. It’s not that she didn’t love my dad or want to provide for him, she just had a hard time with the whole aging process for the both of them. The poor dear. In fact I feel sorry for the both of them as it relates to this matter. They should have both been receiving these meals and sitting down and enjoying them together. I feel like it could have been a special bonding and freeing time for them. I think my dad could accept it but my mom didn’t have the capacity – God bless her. In her last years, she would buy a blueberry muffin at the grocery store and only eat half of it – saving the other half for a 2nd lunch or breakfast. This from a woman who raised and fed seven children – seven! God rest her soul.
My husband and I don’t have children or pets by choice and we have always had a soft spot for senior citizens – especially needy ones.
It has always been particularly rewarding that we could make our deliveries as a team. That way if one client related better to a male or female, they had both options. My husband could always be the strong man if for example, someone needed something physical done, even if it was as simple as placing a jar on a high shelf, taking out the trash or moving a television set to a better viewing angle.

The Aha! moment…

I found it very interesting that many of the clients weren’t necessarily elderly, but suffering from some sort of condition that required them to be shut-in and need meals delivered – for example they might be suffering from hepatitis, be blind, or otherwise physically or mentally impaired. And many of the folks were not low-income and in fact were quite well to do. Some houses that the seniors lived in were in expensive neighborhoods, quite spacious and well kept. And the kitchen might be well stocked. Once we had a couple walk us around their yard and pool and insisted that we take a plant home. We still have it and cherish it.
I learned that as many seniors age, the get set on routine. They like events to happen in an orderly fashion and at the same time. We sometimes got an evil eye when we were either early or late with our deliveries. Other times, however, the recipient was looking forward to the treat no matter when it came. They would ask us to set up the table, put out the placemat and set the meal in place so they could enjoy it in a proper fashion.
Many times the recipient was alone but sometimes there were couples.
Interestingly enough, during the holidays the center is actually less in need for volunteers. It seems that most folks (volunteers, family or otherwise) step up on the holidays. The center is most needy for drivers during the regular calendar weeks.

To summarize it in three words…

  • rewarding, fulfilling, fun

Why should you do this

I would absolutely recommend that other folks volunteer to deliver meals. What could be nor rewarding than bringing subsidence, and kindness to those in need, especially seniors.
We were always greeted graciously – though sometimes we were not expected. Often, the folks on the holiday delivery list were not regulars and sometimes they had actually moved or were no longer in need of meal delivery. In fact, one time we were greeted by the daughter in the law of the intended recipient, only to be told that the client had since passed away. It was sad but the daughter in law was happy to be greeted by someone who cared for her relative – if even in a small way.

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