I was somewhere in my middle school years, visiting family in Asheville, North Carolina, when my aunt told me we were going to deliver meals to older people. She had a friend who volunteered with Meals on Wheels but was unable that day, so my aunt said she would. Those moments spent delivering lunch to men and women unable to prepare a meal themselves was just the beginning of the route I would take to CareLink.
But before we dive into my story, let me introduce myself. My name is Meredith Hale and I am the marketing and outreach manager for CareLink. I am a 28-year-old newlywed who loves history and the people who made it. Which is why what you are about to read should be of no surprise.
Flash forward to July of 2018. I have applied for the position I now hold, and someone asked me how I knew I could become passionate about older people.
The answer was simple.
My passion started in Asheville with my aunt. It grew each time a family member got older, or sick and the leaders of my family discussed what the future would hold.
For my family, we want what my parents want. What their parents want. To stay in their homes. Although my parents and my in-laws are in great health, their parents are not.
After a fall left my 88-year-old grandmother alone in her home on the floor this past summer, unable to call for help until an uncle found her, the “What are our options?” question became very real for my dad and his six siblings. Before, it was more of, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” but now they needed to act.
For now, my beautiful, German grandmother is living with her oldest daughter in La Luz, New Mexico. Far from the home she made with my grandfather, the one that holds all the memories she has left of him since he passed in 2000. Mamaw, who we believe is in the early stages of dementia, doesn’t always remember, or understand why she is 871 miles from home, but for my dad and his brothers and sisters, it’s the only way they can keep her “home.”
My aunt has a caregiver join her when she must work, and they make sure Mamaw eats three meals a day and stays active. Although my family isn’t using Central Arkansas’s Area Agency on Aging, they now have someone on the inside who can share information and resources, even across state lines.
But back to the question at hand.
My passion for elder care grows everyday I get older.
Every time my husband and I talk about starting a family, I think about how old we will be when they graduate high school and college or get married. The youngest I can be is 47 years old, and my husband 52 years old. Our children might be in college when they must decide what their options are for us. But being a part of CareLink, I’m not as concerned because each day I come to work, I learn about a resource my children can use should they ever have to ask each other about their options.
Since joining this wonderful organization in August, I have experienced the joy the older people within this community experience during the slightest interaction.
Many of our clients have caregivers, but some just receive meals. For them, those delivering lunch may be the only people they speak with that day, or week. For me, that’s why I truly believe the work we do at CareLink is so important to the future of Central Arkansas. But not just the ones in Central Arkansas. Growing awareness about Area Agencies on Aging and the resources and options available to older people can only help those outside of Central Arkansas, and even Arkansas.
Last November, two weeks before Thanksgiving, I met one of our volunteers, Phil Helms, on his meals route.
Phil has been a volunteer for approximately two years after becoming familiar with CareLink through work at the Fitness & Wellness Center. One day, he told a colleague he wanted to get involved in the community and they suggested he deliver meals.
At first, I was going to meet Phil at an older woman’s house to film a short video and take a few pictures of them together to share with our Board of Directors. But after speaking with Phil and seeing how he interacted with this woman, I decided to join him on a few more stops.
Every stop was the same. He would knock, and his “friend” would open the door with a warm smile and excited “hello!” I asked his many friends how they felt about Meals on Wheels and having Phil as a volunteer and they all said the same thing, “If it wasn’t for Meals on Wheels, I wouldn’t have lunch today. And I look forward to seeing Phil and the other drivers because of the friendship we’ve created.”
This is especially true for the first woman I saw Phil visit.
She receives meals for lunch plus boxed meals for evenings and weekends. If Phil and the other volunteers aren’t knocking on her door by 10:15 a.m., our Meals on Wheels Volunteer Coordinator Deja Washington’s phone is ringing. She isn’t calling because she’s angry, she’s calling because she scared. She’s calling because for a short minute that feels like an hour, she fears she won’t eat.
Phil and those on his route represent the many faces of Meals on Wheels in Central Arkansas and the necessary outcome the program provides our older loved ones – human interaction and a warm meal. I enjoyed following Phil and listening to the banter he exchanged with the men and women he spends lunch with on Fridays. He has taken the time to get to know them, like our other volunteers.
It reminded me of that summer day in Asheville, North Carolina with my aunt.
Meals on Wheels gives our older loved ones and their families peace of mind and something to look forward to each day. Those we serve, and those who serve them, prove Meals on Wheels is more than just a meal delivery service. They prove CareLink is more than just an agency providing resources and services to older people but is a community of men and women ready to help their older neighbors.
If you ever have the chance to volunteer with CareLink, I highly recommend it. You’ll discover a passion that has been stirring inside of you long before you noticed it.