Recently, Robin Goldstein received a letter that touched her so much she read it as part of a moving video on her program’s Facebook page. After thanking her for the part Goldstein plays in the Charlottesville-Albemarle Meals on Wheels program (she’s the director), the writer said, “There have been times when the only knock on my door and the only face I see is from Meals on Wheels, for six months or more.”
Even with Covid, that degree of isolation is hard for most of us to imagine, but it’s not uncommon. To qualify for the program, each client must be unable—whether because of age, disability, or recovery from illness—to fix a meal, and they must have no other family member at home who’s able to do it.
The client’s letter was a reminder of something Meals on Wheels volunteers already know. It’s about more than the meat loaf, or ravioli, or barbecued chicken. The drivers are a beacon of light in an isolated life. They brighten the day with a little conversation and look for clues that tell them something about each client’s well-being. “If they sense something is wrong, we’ll call the clients or the emergency contact provided,” said Volunteer Manager Hailey Peterson. “If we can’t resolve it that way, then we’ll ask for a wellness check.”
Clients sometime call Peterson because they’d like to have their favorite meal delivered every day, or to wonder why there aren’t more desserts, but mostly it’s to express gratitude for the program and for their favorite drivers.
Volunteers who’ve delivered meals for a while naturally form attachments. On alternate Wednesdays, Eileen deCamp picks up a carload of hot meals and begins her route around Crozet. She moved here from Germany 13 years ago and offered her services to Meals on Wheels and other volunteer efforts. “I wanted to help my community and also get my bearings here and learn my way around,” she said.
DeCamp said all her clients are special, but she’s had special connections with some clients. One favorite client was Herbert McAllister who lived on Buck Road. (Mr. McAllister has since died). “He was such a sweet man. He would apologize for taking so long to come to the door,” she said, “but I never minded.” She found that a few minutes chatting with him became one the highlights of her day as well as his.
“He knew I loved flowers and was in a garden club, and I admired his hydrangeas one day. He said his late wife loved hydrangeas, and he went inside and brought out some clippers and said, ‘You just go ahead and cut as many as you want.’ I miss him and keep him in my prayers.”
There are half a dozen or more people on each Crozet route, and each one has a story. Greg and Jane Govan consider it a privilege to be the ones to hear them. They have been delivering meals for more than 15 years. They talked about one woman who recalled being displaced from her mountain home when Shenandoah National Park was created; another told stories about her career as a servant in a wealthy Chicago home. “You’re not going to run into these people at the bank or the grocery store,” Greg said. “They’re not able to get out.”
Greg and Jane deliver every Friday, and they arrange their delivery schedule around their clients: “We always re-jigger our stops so the one who most likes to talk with us is at the end,” Greg said.
Jane had an experience that caused her to reflect both on the cycle of aging and the nature of rural and small town life. When the Govans retired to Crozet, she looked around for someone to help her with her garden. “One man, already in his 80s, I think, tilled my garden, and wouldn’t let me pay him.”
Years later, she found him and his wife on her delivery list. “It’s what I like about a country community,” she said. “One person does something for you, and then you might have an opportunity to do something for them.”
They’ve been delivering for so long that they’ve gotten to know many of the neighbors of their clients, who see them week after week and stop to chat. This is helpful, Greg said, because if something seems unusual, they can check with a neighbor.
The Crozet routes seldom take more than an hour or so, depending on what clients have to say. On special occasions, like birthdays and holidays, the day’s delivery might include a few delicacies (sugar-free), toiletries, puzzles and a card. Especially frail clients receive frozen meals to last through the weekend, and there’s also a special “blizzard” delivery when bad weather threatens.
“As always with volunteering, you receive more than you give,” Jane Govan said. Eileen deCamp agreed: “All the clients are so grateful for the service, and I am grateful for them.” DeCamp keeps her clients in her prayers as she goes from home to home on her Wednesday deliveries.
“I pray for peace, health and contentment for them,” she said.
Volunteers are always needed. Find out more, or request meals for someone who needs them, at cvillemeals.org.
What do you think makes Crozet a great place to live? Send suggestions to [email protected].