In these covid times, it is easy to feel sadness, grief and a sense of longing for what might have been or what we feel we are missing. It can be more difficult to see the joy in life or recognize the depth and breadth of the goodness that surrounds us.
For me, the difference between just barely surviving this period of Covid dislocation and thriving – well that may be an exaggeration – is having things to do. We can call it having a sense of purpose, I just need to keep busy; there is nothing more demoralizing than waking up in the morning with absolutely nothing to do. I’ve found that it isn’t a matter of having one purpose or a particular passion, I need something more concrete, a collection of tasks that fills my vacant calendar.
Meals on Wheels is the latest in my grab-bag of things to do to keep me busy.
I became aware of Meals on Wheels – MoW for short – in the ‘90s. My father passed away in 1991 and for a while, my mother was adrift. My siblings and I were worried because her daily meal, when she ate at all, was tea and toast. We ordered Meals on Wheels, available even in my small rural town of Taber, population of about 4000.
Each day, some wonderful volunteer would drive over, check in on Mom and drop off a hot meal, complete with a dessert. It worked for her and it worked for us, she had food and daily contact, we had peace of mind.
Last Spring, my friend John signed up to be a delivery driver for Meals on Wheels, his positive reaction to the shutdowns of Covid and a desire to do something positive about it. Magpie-like, I saw a ‘bright and shiny’ and decided to copy him.
It required a bit of work, contacting the agency, filling out forms and getting a police background check; a few weeks later, I got a call, they needed drivers for the Chinese Meals on Wheels, delivering a different menu to clients. Sure, why not, should be fun.
My first day was October 21. I joined a group of a dozen or so drivers show up in a back lane off south Granville Street.
Here’s where the real magic starts.
First, there are these drivers, a mixture of ages not just retired folk like me but every age group down to twenty somethings, about equal in gender, I’m guessing from the cars in the laneway that there’s a surprising breadth of socio-economic representation – all volunteering to drive meals to those who need.
Then there’s the food. My coordinator, Abby, tells me there is this magic place in Chinatown, where staff and volunteers get up way too early, Monday to Friday, to make about 180 hot meals. Two small containers of soup, a container of rice and an ever-changing entree, piping hot as they say, packed four each into an insulated carrying bag.
Then a volunteer drives them to us. At 10:30 am or so he arrives, It’s exciting! We are given the route directions for the day by Abby, my first route had 12 stops and 15 meals. We grab enough meals for our route, wrap them in a plastic bag for hygenic delivery and head off to our appointed rounds.
The next hour is all-consuming. I find my first drop-off, a house with an apartment around the back. I dig out my meal bag, adjust my mask, double check the address and the drop-off instructions, find the door, ring the bell and wait. I’m told that I may wait a few minutes, people are deaf, slightly immobile or slow to the door. Quite the opposite, I find most people waiting for me. I hand off the meal, we smile (unfortunately smiles don’t work as well with masks) we say a few pleasantries to each other and I’m off to the next one.
An hour or so later, I’ve managed to drop off all my meals, although once, I had one meal left over and had to figure out who I’d missed – a panic attack that I never wanted to repeat.
I take the insulated bags back to the drop-off point to be be washed for the next day. I’m set free, it’s about three hours of my time, one day a week.
There is a vast unseen network of people, ordinary heroes who go out every day to take hot meals, a smile and a how-are-you to people in need. They’re backed up by people who gather the names, sort the routes, make the system work flawlessly every day; every day, hot, nutritious meals are cooked and packed for us to deliver. Meals on Wheels has been around for a long time helping people like my mom with a meal and a smile and a message that they’re valued; they’re not forgotten, even strangers care. I’m delighted to be a recent addition to this army of carers.
I am almost embarrassed to speak of it; there seems to be a disproportionate distribution of benefit. I am getting more out of this than I should. On my MoW day, I’m busy, I have purpose, I have a JOB. In this time of isolation, I have joined a community. It forces me to stay active, and justifies my afternoon nap. I feel at the end of my shift that I have done something; I am grateful for the opportunity this simple task has given me to stay balanced and find some hope and some joy in this dark covid time. I feel like I’m getting more than I’m giving.
It is part of what I like to call Tender Mercies, small acts of kindness. I’m grateful that Meals on Wheels was there when I needed it. I need those Tender Mercies.