Recently, I was invited to be a “celebrity deliverer” for Meals On Wheels in Rutland County, and on a sunny Monday morning, I spent several enjoyable hours doing just that.

I arrived at the East Creek headquarters for the distribution of the meals and was assigned to a driver. Stan Majka delivers meals to 30-plus individuals and to InterAge Adult Day Program five days a week. He arrives early for his shift, picks up his cartons and warmers with the meals ready to go, checks the list and his inventory to make sure they match, loads up his vehicle and sets out at about 11 a.m. to deliver to his people so that they have their food by 1:30 p.m. He says he takes over 4,000 steps a day just getting in and out of his vehicle and walking up to home and apartment doors.

Stan is an “all business” kind of worker. He understands that people wait for him to deliver their meals and he doesn’t want to keep them waiting. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get to know his people: At every one of the 30-plus stops we made, Stan was greeted with a warm welcome and a broad smile and, in some houses, a happy bark from pets that he always treats with a biscuit. It soon became obvious to me who the real “celebrity” was.

Lindley Food Service has a Meals On Wheels partnership with three other organizations, including our own Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging, to deliver 2,500 meals a day: plus or minus 500 in Rutland County and plus or minus 2,000 all the way to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and even the Canadian border. They do all of this five days a week with the help of drivers, most of whom are volunteers. Stan is retired. He delivers five days a week, but some drivers come on particular days from places like Castleton University, area banks like People’s United and area businesses such as VELCO and Sotheby’s.

The money for the Meals On Wheels program comes from federal and state funding, fundraising and donations from area businesses; those who receive the meals donate what they can afford. To prepare and deliver each meal with all the equipment and personnel necessary costs $10 and change. The day I delivered, Penny Jones, the office manager at Lindley, was celebrating her 23rd year working with Meals On Wheels. She said that the federal government contributes 54 cents per meal and that this contribution has been the same for the whole time she has been involved with the program. I wonder how the meals provided have had to be adjusted because of the increase in the cost of ingredients and yet, the government hasn’t raised the federal support.

People who benefit from this program are our friends and neighbors. On that Monday, I saw a high school classmate, a friend from church, a woman who had helped take care of my mother-in-law and now needs help herself, a longtime political supporter, and a man who I had seen when he testified at the Appropriations Committee hearing on the governor’s budget about how important such programs are. This program offers hot meals to people who might otherwise not be able to cook for themselves and allows people to live as independently as possible in their own homes or apartments. But it offers much more: contact with someone on a regular basis. A greeting, a smile, a sense of community.

There’s always a need for deliverers. Contact The Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging if you have some time to volunteer.

Cheryl M. Hooker is a Democratic state senator representing Rutland County.

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