The Hands That Give

The Hands That Give
Photo by Jana Birchum

Her hands have opened doors, stirred pots, and flipped levers in voting booths. They've caressed, guided, and even disciplined a couple of generations of kids. Today, they tremble ever so slightly as she lifts the latch on the screen door. Her hands bear the test of time, weathered and lined with the proof of experience. Ms. Treviño is just one of the many clients of Meals on Wheels and More, and today, her hands reach out to receive a meal, a thanks for the many years when the roles were reversed, when she did all the caretaking. The hands on the other side of the tray are sturdy, rough-hewn, but gentle. They belong to James Hart, a veteran driver for MOWAM.

Hart, a Vietnam vet, has lived in Austin since he was a kid growing up in the 1950s. Every Tuesday for the past six years, he's picked up hot lunches for his route, joining about 235 other volunteer delivery drivers who show up at the Meals on Wheels kitchen to distribute nutritional goodness across town (delivery includes 12 bicycle-friendly routes for the new Meals on Two Wheels program, popular with Austin's bike community). This past September, MOWAM celebrated its millionth meal of the year – its first million-meal year of its 37 in Austin.

James Hart and Abby
James Hart and Abby (Photo by Jana Birchum)

"It's great that we could reach that mark and had the support to do so, but it paints a kind of sad and somewhat scary picture of what's going on out in the community," says communications manager Sarah Andrews. Fortunately, MOWAM boasts a total of 5,000 active volunteers getting out into neighborhoods and getting people the care they need.

For Hart, public service is a given. "My mom was the best waitress in the world," he says of her more than 40 years with Austin's beloved Night Hawk Frisco Shop. "She had such regular customers that when they were in the hospital, she would take them food." Hart earned his own stripes both as a Marine and later by helping care for his bedridden father. The entire family took part. "I got to know him more in those three years than I did my entire life," he says.

He considers his mission with MOWAM a natural extension. "You take care of the elderly. You don't abandon them," he says. "They aren't a burden; they're a part of your heritage." And for Hart, they are part of his life. While the relationships remain professional, Hart and the folks along his route interact with the ease of dear friends. The seniors in his care look forward to his weekly stops. "You know, I put that picture you gave me on my fridge!" says one client, referring to a photo Hart gave her of himself with his Boston terrier, Abby. "I tell everyone, 'That's my boyfriend!'"

"It becomes such an important part of their day," says Hart. "Just to interact. Just to say hello and to have a laugh. It means so much. It costs, what? Nothing. A few minutes of my time."

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