A smile. A kind word. A warm meal.
Those are simple things we all appreciate, but it’s easy to forget or overlook that not everyone has equal access to those simplest of pleasures.
The elderly living in quiet poverty, the infirm, the chronically ill and other folk on the fringe of society can exist largely uninterrupted by human interaction.
There are many reasons why they are living in isolation – retirees far from family, people who have outlived spouses and friends, the general depression that can set in when you live in poverty and have no reason or opportunity for interaction with the rest of the world (watching television does not count as interacting with the world).
In late June, the Pulse received an email from Jake Erickson, Aging Program Manager with Door County’s Aging and Disability Resource Center, titled “Meals On Wheels Volunteers Needed.”
As a public service, here is that press release from Jake:
Meals on Wheels volunteers touch the lives of older adults with their time and service. They make a profound difference in our participant’s lives by brightening their day, showing them that people care and by helping them feel in touch. Volunteers are essential in providing care and compassion to older adults in need of nutrition assistance. With the help of dedicated volunteers, the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Door County is able to serve the many older adults in need of meal assistance throughout Door County. Our Meals on Wheels volunteers contribute primarily in the delivery of a hot or frozen meal. Volunteer drivers are greatly needed.
As a MOWs volunteer, you:
- Help older adults maintain an independent lifestyle;
- Brighten the days of isolated and lonely older adults;
- Work directly with your community;
- Develop friendships with older adults and other kindhearted volunteers;
- Fulfill community service or internship hours for school; and to
- Make a difference, have fun, and be inspired!
If you are interested in volunteering or know someone who might be interested, please contact the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Door County at 920.746.2372 or email us at [email protected].
That made me want to do something. I don’t have time to volunteer, but I asked Jake if I could ride along with a volunteer to do a story.
“Absolutely,” he emailed back, “we would greatly appreciate anything you can do to help us recruit some more volunteers.”
He hooked me up with a married couple, Greg and Maggie Virlee, who have delivered Thursday lunches to Sturgeon Bay residents for 4½ years.
Jake had already told me that many of the Meals on Wheels volunteers know how important the program is because they had a loved one who received the meals.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “A lot of the volunteers I know have some connection to the program. Maybe their mother or father was in the program, or maybe a family member or friend was a volunteer. For a lot of people there’s a personal connection with a mother or father. They know how much that person benefited from the program.”
That is the case for Greg Virlee.
“When we retired we both talked about what we could do to help,” Maggie said. “Greg’s mom and dad used to get Meals on Wheels. We thought this would be great for paying back.”
“For some people, we might be the only people they see in a day,” he said.
“We’re not just bringing food. We’re also doing a wellness check,” Maggie said.
“First thing we do if they don’t come to the door, we’ll at least call out and make sure somebody answers to make sure everybody’s OK,” Greg said.
On this particular Thursday – their delivery day – they have only 12 deliveries. Greg said it’s usually 15 or 16, but they explain that someone might have a doctor’s appointment, or in their case, two of their customers had relatives visiting.
Their first stop is Carol.
“We’ve been delivering to Carol since Day One,” Maggie said.
“We’ve made a pretty good friendship with her,” Greg adds.
And, sure enough, they are warmly greeted, as am I, by Carol, who cannot walk and gets around on a scooter.
“They see our faces and a lot of them are just so happy to see us,” Maggie said. “We can’t spend a lot of time with each person because you want to get everybody their food while it’s warm. It brings almost as much joy to us as it does them because we know we’re helping someone.”
Another lunch recipient today is Marianne, who just happens to be Greg’s cousin. I ask what she thinks of the Meals on Wheels program.
“The meals are very good,” she said. “The only thing I don’t care for is mushrooms. When I see mushrooms, I take them off my plate. I’ve got no complaints.”
After making the delivery of 11 of the 12 lunches (one intended recipient was not home when they arrived), the Virlees intended to go home and have their own lunch, leftovers from the 4th of July weekend, although Maggie said sometimes they feel like splurging and go out for a sub sandwich after their deliveries.
She also mentioned that they got a number of calls to fill in for missing drivers on other days in June because of the shortage of volunteers on Jake Erickson’s list of Meals on Wheels drivers.
“If we’re not doing anything, we don’t mind doing it,” Maggie said.
But more volunteers are always welcome. For more information contact Jake Erickson at [email protected] or 920.746.2372.
Wisconsin’s senior population: 1,236,999, or 21.5 percent of the population.
Wisconsin seniors struggling with hunger: 142,379, or 11.5 percent.
Wisconsin seniors isolated and living alone: 320,958, or 26.6 percent.
Wisconsin seniors living in or near poverty: 313,406, or 26 percent.
Number of Wisconsin seniors served by the Older Americans Act Nutrition Programs: 65,250, with 3,710,283 meals served.