Dawn and Vicki’s (Almost NOT) Excellent Slate Belt AdventureAlso known as “The Day That Vicki Introduced Dawn to the Slate Belt Volunteer Crew.”

Hopefully, that first line got your attention. This is a “mea culpa.”

Let me first say that I was overdue for a visit to the Slate Belt Volunteer Crew. Dawn Stillwagen, our Director of Volunteer Services, had yet to meet that crew, so I asked Dawn to join me. A trip to Bangor is no small shake. To make the most of our time, I invited Melinda to assign us an empty route. The excitement in her eyes was almost too much to take. We were assigned S-4.

To those of you not familiar with the “S” routes, this one consists of two senior apartment buildings. Ha! What could be difficult about doing that, other than lugging the meal carriers? We gave it no thought. This was clearly a task well within our professional and intellectual capacity. No problem.

Dawn and I arrived at the Slate Belt pick up site at 9:50. We were surprised to see that our MOWGLV driver was there and he, Ray, was way ahead of the game. He unloads, picks up the empty carriers, and helps the volunteers load their cars. Apparently, he’s also funny. I introduced Dawn and we chatted with the volunteers. The site manager, Jonathan, said “You have your badges?” An uncomfortable silence fell between us as Dawn and I eyed each other in idiotic silence. Ahem. No, in fact, we did not have a badge. Mistake #1: Always wear your MOWGLV i.d. badge! Jonathan handed us MOWGLV lanyards and we sheepishly put those on. Then Jonathan told us that we had one of the hardest routes.

WHAT?

Even though Jonathan knows EVERYTHING about the S routes, we were shocked. Jonathan spent 5 minutes telling us how hard it was to access these buildings because parking was terrible. He even offered to switch routes with us. But no. We are intrepid MOWGLV employees and this was certainly a task we could manage. I mean, we have to set examples to volunteers, right?? Just to be sure, Jonathan pointed out our first destination from the parking lot—a tan brick building across town. Ray had put the carriers in our car. We were set.

I was so overconfident that I headed off without even plugging the address into my phone. Dawn and I both immediately lost sight of the building and had to backtrack about half a mile before getting on the right street. Mistake #2: Always know where you are going!

When we pulled into the parking lot of the building, we wondered if we were in the right place because there was TONS of parking. We had no clue what Jonathan was talking about. We doublechecked the address (because we had learned from Mistake #2, above) and we were in the right place.

Dawn had the route sheet and the hots, and I had the colds; off we went! That feeling of overconfidence was there again as a building employee let us in, meaning that we didn’t have to go down the list of clients and figure out how to use the intercom system to get into the building. I know there are volunteers reading this who can empathize with us on this one. How many times have you stood in a lobby and gone through your list trying to get into the darn building? Invariably, a resident gives you a pathetic look, lets you in, and tells you that you do a good job. Small consolation for punching buttons and looking like a goof for several minutes.

We took about 10 steps into the building and were faced with several directional choices. There were A, B, C, and D quadrants, along with 2 floors. We shrugged our shoulders and attacked from the second floor. There was a lot of ground to cover. I think the exercise app on my watch was wondering why I didn’t turn it on to record my progress. We became disoriented pretty easily. We looked out the hall windows and saw walking paths, and courtyards, but there was no sign of the parking lot. I thought that maybe if I unlocked the car, I would hear the beep and we could orient to that. Neither of us had ruby slippers to find our way home. At several points, we did question’s Jonathan’s sanity. He didn’t tell us about this maze of hallways that was much more of a threat to our ability to reach our clients than finding a parking space!

Thankfully, a helpful resident came along when we were looking our most distressed. We managed to find all of our clients while enjoying Elvis songs streaming in the hallways. We chatted with our wonderful clients and made friends with a few cats. In fact, one client/cat-mom was hand-clasping us so frequently and intently that we questioned whether or not we would be able to exit the apartment. Most of the conversation focused on her very sweet cat, Patrick (that’s a pseudonym to protect his confidentiality). The client was hyper-focused on where Patrick might go in the event of her “demise.” (Her word used multiple times). She even showed us a small instructional card, complete with photo, that she made in case this unfortunate event was to occur. We assured her that the building, or a shelter, would find a good home for Patrick. She then reminded us that he liked to listen to a certain kind of music. I think that was on her instructional card, too. So, what happened next? Vicki and Dawn began to devise a formal pet adoption network for client pets who may need to be rehomed, but give us a few months to formalize that.

I generally ask clients how they like the food, or if there is anything we can do differently. Generally, I get a very positive response. One client told me that she didn’t like the fish cake. As we left, I asked Dawn “aren’t we serving a fish cake today?” We hadn’t given any thought to what was in the tray. In part, this is because we left the menu in the car and hadn’t read it. Mistake #3:  Always know the daily menu! Yes, at this point—and we’re not even at our second location—it’s fair to ask who let these knuckleheads deliver.

Dawn questioned my sense of direction as we tried to find our way out after our last client in this building. That’s fair given the extra mile we drove to get there. However, I got us out quickly and we were happy that we didn’t have to spend the night in the resident lounge with the gnome on the couch.

On to the next building where Jonathan said “park on the grass.” As many of our volunteers can attest, parking at these senior high-rise buildings is hard to find. If there are any visitor spots, they are taken up by aides who are there with the residents. We couldn’t find the grass Jonathan was talking about. (Sorry, Jonathan, that is strike two). I decide that the empty parking lot right next to the building with several “Do Not Park here; vehicles will be towed” signs was perfect. We tossed our MOWGLV sign on the dashboard and off we went. I think I even said “I double dog dare you to ticket this car,” to no one in particular.

Mistake #4: Park at your own risk in a restricted area! NO—I did not get towed or ticketed, though I easily could have. You know how these things go….the lot is empty, the business looks closed, you are Meals on Wheels (!), etc. Long story short: the car was there when we came out with no citation. Phew.

Again, a kind resident let us in so we didn’t need to use the intercom. Dawn is carrying 10 hot meals (and a bag of cat food) and I’ve got 2 hands of cold bags. We start at the stop. There are 3 people with the same last name in the building. Two of them live together. I give those two the bag for the person who does not live with them. Mistake #5: Always carefully read your labels! It is so easy to become distracted when you are holding multiple bags and your hands are full. (I think this mistake has happened before because the resident answered the door immediately to trade bags).

Outside one apartment, we both hesitated when the client took a really long time to get to the door. We wondered if the person was home or if we should call the office. Just as I thought that we should call the office, I realized my phone was in the car. Dawn had the exact same thought. Two people, no phone. (The client saved us from our stupidity by opening the door). Mistake #6:  Have your cell phone with you when making deliveries!

It helps to know your alphabet when you are in these buildings. We backtracked a couple of times because we were alphabetically challenged. I’m ashamed.

We passed one door with a sign that said “RESCUE ROOM.” I joked to Dawn that we should just go there and hang out until this was all over. On the way back out, I realized it said “REFUSE ROOM.” Ok, so now my literacy skills were in question. We decided that I absolutely belonged there.

No humor on this one: Our final stop involved an unlocked door, no client answering, upon entering, a body in a chair. I stood for a moment and held my breath. I knocked on the wall fairly loudly, and the client woke from her nap. Phew.

I can’t tell you how fast we beat it back to the car.

What are the lessons from Dawn and Vicki’s Excellent Slate Belt Adventure? The major one is don’t listen to Jonathan. (Sorry, buddy, I can’t resist).

Seriously, the lesson is Be Prepared and Pay Attention.  1) Have your MOWGLV i.d. badge; 2) Use your directions or your cell phone to get where you are supposed to go; 3) Know what you are serving clients; 4) don’t park where you shouldn’t; 5) Read your labels; and 6) Have your cell phone with you.

We know that volunteers don’t like us reiterating these rules all the time, but they are important to the quality of our work. It just goes to show you that even the people responsible for the system need reminding and can accept constructive criticism. In hindsight, this experience would have made a fantastic training video about how not to deliver meals. I don’t think we could have scripted a better one.

If you have any good delivery stories, share them with us!

(P.S. no clients were damaged during this process!)

— Vicki Coyle, CEO