It is fabulous to create good memories with someone you love. No question. That is a really good reason why families, partners, and friends should deliver meals. In fact, you can make new friends here at MOWGLV and then make wonderful memories with them. It’s that easy!
On Monday, September 12, I had the opportunity to make some great memories with my daughter, Audrey. From a blog post back in April, you will remember (because the story was just that fascinating) that Audrey volunteered to deliver meals with me on her birthday. This week, and knowing that Monday is her day off, I asked her to go with me on Z-11. I know some of you are shuddering when you see that route number. It’s a tough one because of the parking (not to mention the potential for parking tickets, if you’re not careful). I knew I needed a buddy so I could stay with the car. Audrey felt the need to replenish her currency in the “good karma” bank and agreed to help out.
I’ll say straight off that we did NOT screw up, get lost, or act like inexperienced volunteers. To the contrary, we were total pros this time. If you were getting excited to read about something silly that we did, you can stop now.
Z-11 contains some clients who live in some pretty difficult conditions. The housing is poor. Having worked in legal aid for 15 years and having heard the client stories about poor housing conditions, the difficulty in finding affordable housing (and not expecting the best), and not wanting to rock the boat with landlords who will evict rather than fix, I am not surprised by what I see. That doesn’t make it any easier to experience these apartments when delivering meals.
One client kept finding reasons to talk to us—Where was her cat litter? And, could we adjust the time of her Senior Food Box delivery because of her doctor appointment? She spent several minutes telling her how important that food box was to her, that it helps her with her food budget, and that she really appreciates what everyone does for her.
Audrey’s sharp eyes removed a trip hazard from the path of a client whose balance was severely compromised. The client couldn’t find a cane but kept walking towards us and a cord that was draped in her path. We got her seated at the table, found a fork for her to eat her meal, and told her to stay put until someone came home to help her move safely in the house. (We did spend a few minutes looking around the living for a cane, but there wasn’t one. I can tell you how tempting it was to ask her if we could look upstairs for it BUT NO. We stuck to our boundaries for her and our safety…but it was hard).
I worried about Audrey taking a meal to a man who lives in a basement of a house. His room is accessed by going through a back fence and to a Bilco door. The door has his name written on it in pen. The basement does not look like it would be certified by Allentown’s building code. I worried about my 23-year-old daughter seeing this level of poverty and really worrying about this client—and even the others. There is a woman who lives up a narrow stairway on the third floor. Her smoke alarm was chirping 4 months ago on the stairwell. It’s still chirping. We’ve called the city. I guess we will call again. It’s a lot to process. My children have heard me talk about work over the years and the stories about how people live and survive are not new, but this in-your-face experience can be hard to process. What I really try to get across is that we have to meet people where they are, respect their agency, and offer to help in ways and within systems that are respectful to their dignity.
Despite the difficulties of these situations, it wouldn’t be Meals on Wheels if it also wasn’t funny. I mean, it’s not every day (and we are grateful for that!) that you get to see someone come to the door in a saggy pair of boxers. It’s also really fun to run into the occasional super friendly cat, which ends up distracting Audrey, but luckily AFTER we’ve made a delivery.
The most enjoyable part of the trip was walking down a very narrow alley, which I’ve driven down before but just didn’t trust this time. Between a couple of folks sitting on a curb, and some cars sticking out from the curb, I wasn’t feeling the luck of the Irish attempting that, so we walked down. After delivering a meal, we were stopped by a very energized woman speaking rapidly (is there any other way?) to me in Spanish. I panicked. I sort of froze inside. My 278-day streak of Spanish-language learning on my phone app was laughing in my face. Until it wasn’t. I gathered a few of my basic verbs, conjugated them correctly, along with some helpful hand gesturing, and figured it out. At least, I think I figured it out. The woman who was speaking to me—I think—was inquiring about meals. I was able to ask her if she wanted meals and I could say that staff “en la Oficina” speak Spanish. She brought out an envelope and an orange crayon so that I could write down the office phone number. Even though Audrey was busy with the cat on the window ledge, she said she could tell that the woman appreciated my trying. I think it took a few minutes for my heart rate to slow. I don’t know if we picked up a new client from this encounter, but again, it wouldn’t be Meals on Wheels if it weren’t for these situations.
They keep us going, both the tough and fun ones. They are meaningful and we mean a lot to the people we help. Don’t ever underestimate the power of what you do, and magnify that power by doing it with someone who thinks you are a rock star for trying to help. (Thanks, Audrey!)