Have wheels, will deliver meals
I pulled up outside Marra Food Services this morning at 9:30 a.m., anxious as hell. I was going on a training run with Joseph, who would show me my assigned route, should I decide to take on the work. Anxious because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, anxious about what I might see today, anxious because I didn’t know who this Joseph was — other than what the volunteer coordinator told me over the phone. Would he be an axe murderer? Smelly? An asshole? A horrible teacher?
Anxiety is so stupid sometimes. Joseph was a lovely retired gentleman who couldn’t have been a better tutor. He stood waiting for me as I walked up to the building. He firmly shook my hand, saying good morning, and I was completely at ease.
We walked inside and he ushered me over to the enormous, food-stuffed coolers that we would soon carry out to his car – one with hot meals, the other with cold food (milk, juice, cookie, roll). He showed me how to check off the number of meals/dietary specifications of the people on his route versus the food in the coolers (1% milk vs. whole, special diet needs, only some people wanted juice, no milk, one man who needed his food cut up for him, etc.). Everything looked good and we headed off to his car, coolers in our arms.
As we drove to our first stop (of 20), he explained the detailed notes on the route sheet, next to each meal recipient’s name: some people would leave their own coolers filled with ice packs outside their front doors (because they were either unable to get to the door quickly or they didn’t want to interact with the volunteers), others would be waiting for us, eager to see perhaps the only person they would see all day…to get what might be their only meal of the day. And others had caretakers or adult children that would be waiting to take the food from us.
“For the cooler/ice pack people, they sometimes forget to leave ice packs in them, and if so, we can’t leave the food. It might spoil,” Joseph explained. “If that’s the case, I’ll knock on the door to try to rouse them, but if I can’t get them to the door or they’re not home, I’ll give the extra meal to the next person on the route.”
He then laughed, and said “There’s one guy, toward the end of the route, who leaves hundreds of ice cubes in his cooler. Sometimes all that’s there when I arrive is a pool of water…and then I can’t leave the food for him. I’ll knock and knock, but he never comes to the door.”
Our first few stops were what I called “cooler people,” who had dutifully left their ice-pack-filled coolers by the front door. We packed the meals into their coolers, Joseph would rap on the door, and we would head back to his car.
On our fifth stop, a woman was waiting for us to arrive. As we pulled up, Joseph explained that she had only been on the route for three weeks and that she had baked pound cake for every volunteer who delivered meals to her during the first week. She was thrilled to see us. Joseph introduced me and told her that I would be delivering her meals on Mondays.
She smiled at me and said “Come into my kitchen dear, I have something for you.” I gave Joseph a worried look, and he smiled, nodding his head to tell me that it was okay to go in.
She rummaged around on her kitchen counter and – expecting pound cake – I was handed a necklace instead, still in its plastic wrapping. “This will look so pretty on you,” she said. “I work at the church thrift shop and I pick up things from time to time, here take it.” I looked back at Joseph and he gave me a look that I correctly interpreted to mean “don’t argue, just take it.”
As I looked around her disheveled kitchen and realized that she was alone – very alone and obviously not entirely well off – tears filled my eyes. I humbly took the necklace and leaned in for a hug. She grabbed onto me and squeezed, saying “See you Monday, my dear.”
“Done,” said Joseph, as he checked the last (and 20th!) name off the list. He pointed his car back to toward the food services site so we could return the coolers.
As Joseph drove, I stared out the window and thought back on the past two hours of my morning. Some people I never saw — I only saw their ice packs and coolers, others only opened their doors wide enough for us to slide through the food, others chatted and showed us pictures of their grand-kids. One woman came to the door after repeated knocks and doorbell rings, saying “My husband tried to get to the door, but his pants fell down. That’s why it took me so long to answer.” Joseph and I burst into laughter the minute we got back into his car.
Once we returned the coolers and lists to the site, Joseph turned to me and said “Good luck to you — it’s been a delight.” I walked to my car and immediately called the volunteer coordinator.
“I’ll do it,” I said.
“Can you start Monday?” she asked, her voice hopeful.
“Yes, absolutely,” I replied
“You just made my day,” she replied.
I have to admit, Meals on Wheels made my day today. I’m looking forward to Monday. I have a purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And it feels pretty damn good.