"Public Notice" gets its motor running and hits the streets with Meals on Wheels.
How many times had we passed by the joint? Who knew? But every time we did, we thought to ourselves, "Hey, we'd like to do that!" Maybe it had to do with the fact that we come from South Florida; our introduction to Austin being a shellshock at its lack of elderly (and jeez, let's not get started on that whole segregated city thing ...). This program served shut-ins, for the most part, and for the most part, that meant the elderly.
The Wheel World
"Shut-in" in our society too often means shut out. We enjoy a culture of independence taken to extremes. Unfortunately, entire segments of our population, while supposedly fully guaranteed their rights to that independence, couldn't cope under those circumstances even if they wanted to. Certain segments will remain disenfranchised -- the elderly, the poor, the young ... oh, the list goes on -- unless their needs and interdependence are addressed.
Meals on Wheels and More has a mission (and conveniently a mission statement that spells it out): "To nourish and enrich the lives of homebound and other people in need through services promoting dignity and independent living." There's that independence thing again. This past week, we accompanied one of the route drivers, who also happens to be the MoW's director of development, Margo Dover, to deliver a few meals and to see for ourselves how this independence/interdependence deal works.
Let's start off with a few misconceptions:
Okay, first of all, Meals on Wheels, despite its very familiar-sounding name, is affiliated with no national organization. What you see in Austin is what you get. There is no benevolent big umbrella that funds the deal. What is raised here stays here, and according to Dover, "In 30 years we haven't had an audit or a scandal!"
Secondly, Meals on Wheels is not just about meals. They also deliver meds and groceries, and perform other essential errands for folks who depend on their services. And right now, there is no waiting list. If services are needed, somehow the group copes. "We aren't going to let anyone not get a meal; that just isn't an option," says Dover. The group currently is delivering about 200 meals a day over their max.
Third, Meals on Wheels doesn't operate in a vacuum. Other public service groups who have clients in need of the types of services MoW provides can and do coordinate to offer those services through them, thereby extending both groups' reach. MoW's kitchen and distribution center on Rosewood Avenue is but one of many area distribution facilities.
Margo took us on a typical lunch run. She had 14 meals to deliver and let us navigate. The first step was to load in. Volunteer drivers bring two coolers to retain the temperatures of the meals en route: one for the hot meals and one for the cool packets of milk and condiments. Our route was drawn for us beforehand, and we were given a map and an info sheet about the various clients (all located within a few blocks of one another). Some folks require special dietary considerations; that's all marked on the forms. We took a look at all the addresses on the route, and experienced Margo figured the best starting point.
The deliveries went pretty quickly. As we parked in front of each house, we'd check the client's dietary requirements and make sure we took the right meal. Most of the clients have been receiving meals for quite some time, clearly. Some waited by the patiently door; while others had their own routines to attend to, leaving instructions on the door like "Leave the meal at such and such place ..." It was all new to us.
We caught ourselves thinking dopey thoughts like, "Gee, everyone is so nice, even though we're invading their private space," forgetting the obvious, like the fact that we were bringing them free food. It sent us back to our childhood, when we lived in a neighborhood of many older folks, and a few of us kids were sent on regular visits to brighten up their afternoons. Sometimes we even cooked for them. Sometimes with less than savory results. But Mrs. Day would eat that fish, no matter how badly we burned it. And she'd smile and offer us Stella Dora cookies afterward (all the old ladies had Stella Dora cookies) all the same and cry when we had to leave.
We want to explore this Meals on Wheels thing further. We think we are really cut out for it. Right now, however, the group offers only lunchtime routes, tough for some of us to fit in to the work week. Margo says that about 25% of their clients could use an evening meal, as well. When the group moves into their planned expanded location off Fifth Street, perhaps that will become a reality.
In the meanwhile, we contented ourselves with taking the group up on its offer to send our mom a card in exchange for a donation made in her name. We can't think of a better Mother's Day racket and encourage you to consider sending some belated Mother's Day greeting via our friends at Meals on Wheels as well. 476-MEAL.