I’m a volunteer driver for our local Meals on Wheels, which means that one day a week, I take a long lunch (thanks to my kind company, that agree that I’m adult and if I can get my work done, they don’t mind me doing this…in fact, they encourage it), drive to the Senior Center, pick up 16 meals, and drive them to senior citizens who are on fixed budgets and are unable to get out and shop for themselves, or are unable to cook, or both.  They are in varying degrees of need, but I don’t think anyone goes on Meals-on-Wheels unless they are needing some assistance.

I started volunteering for MoW a few years ago, when I was unemployed for a few months.  I was motivated by my father, who has been delivering for MoW in Portland for several decades now.  I was surprised at how much I enjoy it…it’s lovely to get out of my home office and see people, people who have no real demands of me, other than to be friendly and bring a meal, and sometimes change a light bulb or assist with a hearing aid.  I like driving, I like listening to the radio in my car, I like the feeling I get knowing that I’ve helped someone in a very real way.

Well, today I want to quit.  I just do.  The demand for services has increased so much, and their waiting lists are so long, that they are having to tighten up their rules for who is eligible.   If you have someone who could shop for you, off you go.  If you have a car and could possibly get yourself to the grocery store, off you go.  There are just too many people on the waiting list who are home bound and in greater need of the services.  It’s triage.  It’s not that the people that they’re bumping don’t need their services, it’s just that there are too many people on the waiting list who need it more.

Today’s delivery brought me to Dana’s house.  Dana who always has a kind word, asks after my family, remembers when I tell her that I’m going on vacation and asks how it was.  Who gives me a box of Chocolates at Christmas, and a plant for my yard in the spring.  Who gave me a Christmas Card that said, “Thank you for helping me to stay in my home.”  She’s off the route, because she has a car.  A car which she shouldn’t drive often, because she’s old and her reflexes are not what they once were.  So now she is going to have to figure out how to cope with the grocery store, with the impatient people who don’t want to be stuck behind an old woman who can’t find the canned tomatoes.  She’s going to have to come up with the money to pay for groceries, while before she received her meal from Meals on Wheels.  I had an extra meal that another client didn’t want, so I brought it to her, and asked her if she had been dropped.  She started crying, because she has, and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do.  She understands that there are those out there who need this service more than she does.  But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t still need it.  I hope that she and her neighbor, who was also dropped from my route, might find a way to make it over to the senior center, where they serve hot meals Monday – Friday, and you don’t have to pay if you cannot afford it.

I came home, disheartened and sad, and I was telling Ted about it, and I started thinking about how much the need for services like this is going to increase, as more baby boomers begin to retire.  Some of the people on my route are in their 80s and 90s, but some are younger, in their late 60s or 70s.  Life doesn’t deal us all a fair set of cards, and some people are forced out of the workplace earlier than others…by health reasons, by the economy, whatever.  Some people have families near by who are able to help them, but others do not.  The demand is going to continue to increase for services for the elderly…and where is the money going to come from to support them?  I’m sure I don’t know.

I won’t quit.  I will make new friends on the route as they add new people.  I will continue to stop and check in on Dana sometimes.  There will be good days doing my delivery route again.  But today just wasn’t one of them.

UPDATED 11/15/12 to say that I had an extra meal again today, and went to drop it at Dana’s house. I also gave her a flyer for the Senior Center, and talked to her about going to lunch there, if she’s able to drive. Then when I got home, I looked up her neighbor Sandy (the one who was also dropped from the program), then called Dana and gave her Sandy’s contact information. Hopefully, they can go together and get lunch sometimes.

11 thoughts on “Heartsick

  1. Julie, What you are doing is beyond generous…and just plain selfless. I love it. Focus on the good that you can do. Because that is all you can do. My grandfather is one of the people who can’t drive and needs to have meals brought to him…but he has no one. He has a golf cart that he drove for a while, but the place where seniors go for a free lunch every day is a little far. He goes there because he has to…it is the one meal he eats a day. He says he doesn’t need much more than that….but I don’t know. Are there any other elders in the general vicinity that can share a cab? Is there a bus that will pick them up and drop them off? Sometimes there are services like that and the elderly just aren’t aware of them. Is there a local bus? Maybe what you can do is help by simply putting together an organized list of options for those that are dropped. And check in on them from time to time like you do. There are no easy answers… You are a great spirit for helping. Thank you. xo Heidi

    • Nice ideas, Heidi. I think I’ll call around and see if there are options for them…I do know that some of my clients eat just the one meal every day. They are not active, their metabolisms have slowed down, they don’t need much. I think if the can eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, and get a meal somewhere, the burden of cooking and shopping wouldn’t be so overwhelming.

  2. Oh, J. I don’t know what to say. As a mom and a former teacher, my first reflex is to try to figure out how to fix it (from all the way over here in Ohio!), as if you haven’t gone through it all in your head already yourself.

    • Nance, thanks…you’re right…I’m thinking, Maybe I could take them grocery shopping once a week. They’d have to pay their own way, but I could drive. But I’m not convinced that I want to have them that dependent upon me, and I don’t know how much they can cook, and it wouldn’t really solve the problem…Gah. I just want there to be enough money to deliver meals to anyone who needs them, and I can’t make that happen.

  3. It sounds like we need a new charitable organization, a place for people to donate that will deal with this need. I hate it that our country is counting on charity for what we should do as a people and part of our government. Very sad.

    • Well, people can certainly donate to Meals on Wheels. They’re always doing fundraisers. It would be a LOT of money, though, to take care of everyone on the list, you know? Maybe more trucks, certainly more food, getting more volunteers. All of that. Sigh. The solution is probably more in line with grants than individual donations.

  4. I was a Meals on Wheels volunteer for years in Oklahoma. I can imagine how difficult this is for those seniors and how hard it is for Meals on Wheels to make these painful choices and for the volunteers to see the effects.

    • V-Grrl, you’re right. It sucks for all of us. When I first heard about it, I called MoW to get the whole story, and the woman who was explaining it to me, and why, almost started crying herself.

  5. When my mother was nearing her end, she became eligible for MoW. They were a godsend. I lived out of town and I knew that during the week she had something warm to eat at least once a day. I’m sorry to learn that this program is being cut back, but not surprised I suppose. Our country’s priorities are out of whack.

    • Ally, it’s not being cut back, it’s that the demand is so great, they have to triage the people who are eligible, and give it to the most needy. The end product is the same, people who need the services not getting it. But at least it’s not a cutback.

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