Giving Back: Meals on Wheels

Today was my company's annual "Community Outreach Day." For the past few years, I've volunteered at The Humane Society of New York, but this year, I decided to branch out and help some humans.

So, 20 colleagues and I set off for the Midtown chapter of Citymeals-on-Wheels (via Encore Community Center).  We gathered in a cheerful senior center that was abuzz with lively conversations and the smells of lunch cooking in the cafeteria.  Local able-bodied senior citizens in the neighborhood can come by for breakfast, lunch and conversation (food is free, but a minimal donation--$1 per meal--is suggested, mainly for those who are still too proud to accept charity).

We received instructions on what to do, how to handle deliveries (knock on the door, announce yourself, be patient and give them time to get to the door, don't leave meals with neighbors, give any undelivered food to a homeless person or give a second helping to another person on the list, etc.) and information on our routes, before setting out to deliver the meals.

There are about 18,000 senior citizens (average age is 85) in the city and five boroughs who aren't able to come have their meals at their local senior center, so the food is delivered to them.  The midtown chapter we worked for today delivers about 3,000 meals a day!

We were separated into nine teams of twos and threes and took off on foot with our wheeled cart packed with two insulated containers -- one held the hot portion of the meal (a nice piece of chicken with ginger sauce, brown rice, and colorful--not wilty--mixed vegetables) and the other the "cold packs" (a carton of low-fat or skim milk, a slice of bread, a banana, and a container of applesauce).  My team had a list of 25 people who receive meals on a daily basis.  A few weren't on the Tuesday list and one was not at home, but we were able to hand-deliver  21 meals today.

The recipients ranged from a lively elderly man who had acoustic guitars lining the walls of his entryway, to small, dark apartments smelling strongly of bleach where we were greeted by live-in nurses. Some recipients were waiting for us and others were a bit harder to find (a man living in what seemed to be an abandoned building).  Most were grateful and thanked us, a few asked us to take out the recycling, others wanted us to stay and chat -- something I would have happily done if we didn't still have a bunch of meals to be delivered that were getting colder by the minute.

I was amazed at how caring the doormen were as well -- many of them told us the name of the recipient and their apartment number before we even finished walking in the door. One even told us to come back later because the tenant was returning from a vacation today, but wasn't back yet. Every one of them thanked us for coming.

It must be hard to be elderly and living on your own in a city of this size. Yes, there are things that make it easier than growing old in the middle of nowhere, but I'm sure there are other things that make it very difficult, too.  I thought of my grandparents (all deceased) and wondered if they would have made it in the city. Maybe Papa would have -- I think he liked coming to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade years ago, and he got a kick out of the subway.  And Gram, she would have gently, but stubbornly elbowed her way through the crowds with the best of them (especially if she had her trusty cane). Still, I'm so glad they were all well-taken care of and never needed strangers to deliver their meals to them.

Food -- it's become quite the fad lately, yet it is also really a necessity. I don't think we stop and realize how many people don't have three square meals a day...and how thrilled they are to get a piece of chicken, a scoop of rice, a banana and a carton of milk.

So, let's not take our ability to have a hot meal anytime we want for granted. Or our health. Or the fact that we have loved ones who will gladly check in on us when we're 85 years old.

I'm thankful I work at a company that lets me skip a day at the office to help the community--it's something I want to/should do every day. Now, my question for you, dear ones -- how are you going to give back?