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September 11, 2007 > It's More Than Just Delivering a Meal

It's More Than Just Delivering a Meal

By Natalie Campbell

For almost three years now, every Thursday from 10:30 - 12:30, my daughter Maggie and I have delivered meals to the elderly in Fremont. We do this through an organization called LIFE ElderCare's Meals on Wheels. They rely solely on volunteers to deliver 90,000 meals a year to seniors in the Tri-City Area.

I fell into Meals On Wheels by chance. I was looking for a volunteer opportunity that allowed me to bring my newborn baby. There are not many options - kids in soup kitchens or food banks are a liability. However, I called LIFE's Meals on Wheels on a whim, told the volunteer coordinator about Maggie (only two months old at the time) and got the response, 'Can you start this week?"

I hemmed and hawed, not sure if it would be a good fit. I was not sure that I really wanted to commit to every Thursday. I mean, driving around for two hours with a newborn? And visiting old people? But I agreed to go that first week. I had an orientation, including an opportunity for another volunteer driver to ride with me a few times, and then Maggie and I were on our own.

We had about 10-15 homes to visit each week. Some seniors were not interested in talking and some put a cooler outside their door for the meal. The majority of the seniors, however, really looked forward to our visits. Many times they would be waiting for us at the door, eager to have a little company and to see the baby.

When we first joined LIFE's Meals on Wheels program, Maggie was so very tiny, all she could do was sit in her car seat, smile and coo at the people we visited. But as the years have gone by and we have visited the seniors each week, they have experienced her learning to crawl, to walk and to dance. Maggie has been known to tap dance on command! I think the fact that I bring Maggie with me makes our visits that much more special and that rather than a liability, having a child has turned out to be a blessing.

We have really gotten to know these wonderful people as they have gotten to know us. I hear about their families, backgrounds and about the history of Fremont. They tell me stories about living in a time that was so different than it is now. There is a man who talks about his experiences during WWII and a woman who shares about life during the depression. One woman lived through the Dresden bombings in Germany. We share with each other the ins and outs of our lives. They are interested in my family, about my life and truly take pleasure in celebrating Maggie's accomplishments and development.

I love seeing these people and helping them. The meals that we bring are not only sustenance, but their connection with the outside world . . . as often Maggie and I are the only faces they see all day long! This volunteer job is so important and so easy to do. I thought I'd be uncomfortable and not know what to say, but now I realize that I was afraid to face my own mortality; to see what lies in store for me when I am older. I wanted to turn away and pretend that I was going to be a young woman forever. I wanted to insulate myself and my child from the realities and difficulties of life.

I've gotten past that now and I am so glad. I have brought my child along for the journey. I want her to see firsthand that there are so many kinds of people in this world. Young or old, they are people who matter, people who have stories and people who sometimes get lonely. I want her to look beyond herself, her immediate friends and family and try to make a difference in her community and in her world.

A kind word, a gentle hug or a thoughtful card . . . Maggie and I are able to share all these things with the seniors during just one visit. It doesn't cost a thing and the rewards are priceless.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteering for LIFE ElderCare's Meals on Wheels, ( I can assure you that they would indeed welcome your help. They are currently in great need for volunteers. If you aren't comfortable with committing to every week, join with a friend and alternate weeks. For further information call Barbara Proctor, Volunteer Coordinator, (510) 574-2094. You will soon find out that it is so much more than just delivering a meal.

Pathways to Positive Aging, a project of the City of Fremont's Human Services Department and the Tri-City Elder Coalition, fosters meaningful exchanges between generations. This five-year plan will build a circle of care that celebrates the aging process by creating a community whereby seniors are supported, valued and involved.

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