Community//

This Was Never About Me

How the volunteer commitment I began when I was hanging on by a thread became my thread of continuity in a global pandemic

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2020 started out as a whirlwind travel year, checking off four cities by the end of February. I was exhausted and ready for a break. Like the rest of the planet, I did not expect it to come in the form of a global pandemic. I was gearing up to head to Nashville when states began shutting down. The highest risk activity, it seemed, was airplane travel. 

I faced the same dilemma most traveling salespeople did at that time, personal safety versus business relationships. For me, however, personal safety wasn’t that personal. I was understanding quickly that the risks I took in my own life could have dramatic consequences for six of the most important people in my life: my Meals on Wheels clients.

I began volunteering for Meals on Wheels just over two years ago. I was newly sober and clinging desperately to all advice being slung my way. “Service”, I heard repeatedly, “stay in action”. Being a recovering overachiever as well, I was eager to comply. 

I had tossed around several volunteer opportunities in the years leading up to my sobriety. A veteran of animal rescue and former volunteer board member, I signed up for orientation at the local shelter. I attended, but found the time commitment overwhelming to my busy social schedule. The following year I signed on for a smaller holiday commitment with a women’s shelter. I missed the orientation with a hangover.

I knew the right match for me would come along if I truly opened my heart to the idea. 

First came a Meals on Wheels flyer at the local Starbucks. I tucked the tear-off number in my wallet for consideration. The following day, I passed a Meals on Wheels billboard on a rarely-traveled route to meet friends for dinner. I told them how interesting it was that I’d had two Meals on Wheels sightings in two days.

The next day, I nearly fainted.

I parked in the “blue zone” at the grocery store, the area where only the heart-healthy people park. As I returned to my car with my groceries, I spotted it. The car next to me had a Meals on Wheels volunteer magnet. It was as if lightning had struck me on a sunny day in the Central Market parking lot.

I returned home, eager to let my friends know this “third time’s a charm” evidence. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any stranger, my friend texted me back a photo. She was at a traffic light behind another Meals on Wheels volunteer, magnet on full display (I later trained with the marketing coordinator and she was thrilled to learn the impact of her campaign).

There was no denying what organization was compelling me to service, and I would learn later that my grandmother was a meal recipient while I was away at college. I have sensed messages from her throughout sobriety, but without getting into THAT magic, suffice to say that this was meant to be.

Fast forward two years. I drive a regular route in my area every single Friday. The majority of my clients have been with me since day one, although part of my route was split last year and I lost several favorites, including my Colombian client who couldn’t speak a word of English. That is, until she learned how to timidly say “bery nice” and point to me before giving a parting prayer en Espanol.

The best part about being grounded from travel is that I no longer have to miss a Friday. My sub needs were few and far between, but on the weeks I missed, I almost always brought postcards from my destination. I would write to each client and tuck them into their delivery bag on the Friday I returned. I noticed collections building on refrigerators or the most recent one standing at attention on a side table. I like to think it helped them enjoy a piece of the outside world, but also to remind them that somebody far away still cares.

The worst part about delivering during the pandemic is the prohibition of hugs. Having the same clients for more than two years means that we have forged family-like bonds. They look forward to our Friday visits as much or more than they do their meal. We handed out fliers at the onset letting them know the volunteers could no longer enter their homes. It is sad, but necessary.

I’m happy to say that none of my clients have gone “missing” from my route. We have all stayed healthy since the onset of the pandemic through the help of masks, safety precautions, and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. Donor organizations were our lifeblood when sanitizer shelves stood empty.

The world has been turned upside down. Most of the planet is ready for 2020 to be over. People wonder what more can be thrown their way. I will not be traveling again this year, but I take solace in knowing exactly where I will be every single Friday morning.

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