Day 3: Like Home

Prior to embarking on my Meals on Wheels delivery route this morning, I watched a brief training video in which WMC-TV anchorman Joe Birch cheerfully informed me that I should try to make conversation with the homebound senior citizens I would be meeting. “You may be the only person they speak to all day,” he explained. I started to worry that perhaps I was not up to the task of being a singular bright spot in the day of a hungry, lonely elderly person. I wondered if I would spend the morning consumed with guilt each time I had to leave a destination. I departed the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) parking lot with two coolers of food and a feeling of moderate anxiety.

And I'm off!

And I’m off!

As I delivered hot meals to homes and apartments in the Berclair area, two things struck me. First, I realized how close I was to the street where I grew up. At one point, I was less than two miles away from my old house, driving down a road I had once ridden my bike on as a child. This was not some alien pocket of the city I had never seen- it was the first Memphis I ever knew.

The more salient realization was how few of these men and women seemed truly isolated. When I complimented one woman on her front yard, which was festooned with Christmas decorations, she crowed, “Oh, my daughter-in-law put those up for me!” Several people had children, grandchildren, or other companions in the living room when I arrived. Almost everyone had at least one dog or cat.

As an animal lover, I often find myself striking up conversations with people about their pets. Today was no different. While I was admiring one gentleman’s beautiful calico cat, I suddenly remembered a conversation I had with my mother the night before. She had informed me that an elderly friend who suffered a stroke was being moved into an assisted living facility. Unfortunately, this meant the woman would have to give up her beloved cat. Even though I understood why such a step was necessary, I grew indignant nonetheless. “Isn’t having a stroke and moving out of your home traumatic enough?” I demanded.

That’s when I realized just how valuable a service like Meals on Wheels truly is. Of course, the problem of homebound senior citizens struggling with food insecurity was reason enough for MIFA to offer this program. It occurred to me that maybe one of the reasons I wasn’t seeing a lot of sad, lonely people was because they still had that important emotional connection to a home. They were tethered to the places and people (and pets) that gave them a sense of belonging.

Later, as volunteer specialist Isaiah Swanson gave me a tour of the impressive MIFA headquarters, he confirmed this impression. “The goal with all of our programs is always to try and keep people in their homes,” he told me. I wondered how many of the people I had met on my route would have ended up in a nursing home or similar institution without MIFA’s programs.  I thought of all the people who had eaten their meals in places that still felt like home. At the end of the day, I pulled out of the parking lot feeling substantially more hopeful than I had the first time around.

MIFA programs provide so many opportunities to serve the Memphis community, so visit to find out how you can help.

Week 13, Day 5: Adriene at MIFA Meals on Wheels

Exploring new parts of this city is something I enjoy. I observe these places like a child witnessing something for the first time, and I like it. It’s important to me to be aware of the city I call home, visiting all areas – even the unknown and out of the way ones. Though Memphis feels like a small town, it’s a big city, and there are so many places to be discovered. Traveling to these tucked away streets today, I had one of my favorite volunteer experiences yet as I delivered meals to seniors via Meals on Wheels. A bit of service mixed with traveling through new neighborhoods = delightful!

photo19John, a former Volunteer Odyssey participant joined me today. His company was a welcome addition to the morning. Having done this before, he drove the route through North Memphis as I navigated and handed out warm trays of food, rolls, milk, and fruit cups. We carted the prepared food in coolers from its origin at Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) to eight homes. MIFA does some really amazing things for the community, with a mission to promote and support independence of vulnerable populations like seniors. The simplicity of bringing them a nutritious meal allows them to stay in there homes and keep their independence.

MIFA, Meals on Wheels headquarters

Meals on Wheels headquarters (MIFA)

On our ride back, I had a strong sense of wanting to volunteer with Meals on Wheels again. Even more I wanted to share the experience with people I love. It was easy, enjoyable, and only took an hour or so of my time. A pretty great hour I’d say. I’ve always thought about the senior population being a forgotten one, and it felt nice to do something for them that is so important to their day. It was a pleasure connecting with each and every one of them, seeing them smile and offer gratitude, and if I was lucky, chatting for a short minute or two. I highly recommend volunteering with this program so you can brighten the day of a few seniors too.


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Week 5, Day 1: Atina Rizk at MIFA Meals on Wheels

MIFA is dear to my heart because like every other child in Memphis at Thanksgiving, I have dutifully brought cans of creamed corn and lima beans to school to “put the GIVE back in Thanksgiving, y’all.” Even in law school, there was one day where you could bribe the professor to skip you if you brought canned goods to donate to MIFA (watch out though, professors tend to just keep asking you questions until you have nothing left but to actually answer the darn question; just thinking about it makes my palms sweaty). Despite years of donations of food though, I have never donated my time at MIFA. This is what it is like:

Many many meals soon to be on wheels.

Many many meals soon to be on wheels.

Upon my arrival at 9:30 am, I am instantly struck with how well organized and well prepared everyone is. There are about 32 routes for the day with numbered coolers and many of them have already been picked up for delivery. While I am getting squared away, other volunteers come pouring in to get their cargo. It’s nice to see so many like-minded people in one place. One woman brought her child to help her, which I think is just wonderful.

A kind gentleman named Rick helps me with some paperwork, makes sure that I am insured and have a valid driver’s license, and then explains what to do. Pretty simple. Follow the directions that include the names and addresses of those who need the meals and deliver. Each person gets a carton of milk, a chicken breast with a lovely curry sauce, steamed squash, mashed potatoes, bread, and my personal favorite, a ginger bread man!

Me and Rivers loading up (no comments about lifting with a rounded back, I was getting situated)

Rivers and I loading up (no comments about lifting with a rounded back, I was getting situated!)

Rivers Powers, who blogged here a few weeks ago, comes along to read the directions. It is definitely good to have someone with me because Memphis’ streets are a bit difficult to navigate. The route, lucky number 17, is generally efficient in taking me from house to house. Further proof that MIFA is well organized is that every recipient has her/his door open. They must be predicting what time we will arrive.

Empty coolers. Could have dumped them on Rivers. Wasted opportunity.

Empty coolers. Could have dumped them on Rivers. Wasted opportunity.

In less than an hour and a half, our coolers are empty. We have been invited into several homes to say hello or to put the food on a table because its difficult to balance the whole meal in one hand while moving with a cane or a walker. We are always greeted with smiles and thanked heartily.  Volunteering at MIFA is a pleasure and impacts so many people in such a short time, a truly satisfying experience.

Week 2, Day 1: Rivers Powers at MIFA Meals on Wheels

In the 25 years or so of schooling I have, I have never thought about spending my Spring Break doing anything like Volunteer Odyssey, but after Day 1 at MIFA delivering food for Meals on Wheels, I’m very happy about my non-traditional vacation. I pass MIFA at least 10 times a week, and several of my classmates work there, but I’ve never spent much time learning about their programs. That has been an epic failure on my part. Meals on Wheels is one of the best volunteer opportunities I’ve been a part of in Memphis. I now know why so many people volunteer their time there on a regular basis: the team at MIFA is very friendly and well organized. Food is delivered in teams of two, and each team is given a methodical delivery schedule and two coolers – one for hot food and one for cold drinks. The meal recipient gets a small carton of both milk and grape juice and a hot meal with meat, steamed vegetables, a sweet cobbler-like fruit, and a slice of bread. Admittedly, today’s turkey smelled pretty amazing!

Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I would highly recommend this program to other volunteers. It is easy, only takes about an hour, and the people you meet along the way are highly appreciative and interesting individuals, who manage to show a lot of personality in a very short period of time.


Week 1, Day 1: John Cook at Meals On Wheels


So here I am, my first day of my Volunteer Odyssey experience.  Today I am delivering lunches for MIFA Meals on Wheels., a program that provides lunches for homebound senior citizens.


MIFA Meals on Wheels

MIFA Meals on Wheels

I show up to the MIFA office around 9:15 am to “check in”, load up a couple coolers of food, and figure out my route.  My route consists of around 12 seniors who all live around the same area.

As I approached my first stop, I became a bit overwhelmed.  I started asking myself a lot of questions  :

“What if I do it wrong?”

“What if she doesn’t like me?”

“Is this enough food?”

“Should I take out her garbage or offer to mow her lawn?”

“Now you’re just being ridiculous. But yea, offer to mow her lawn just in case.”

I parked and put together a tray of food and walked up the steps to the first house and knocked on the door.  A nice older lady opened the door and accepted the food I brought and said thank you.  It was as easy as that.  All that worrying for nothing.


Deliverin’ meals

I went on about my route and each person I delivered food to was very grateful and told me how good of a job I was doing.  They must’ve known I was a newbie and needed that reassurance.


Putting together a tray of food

I finished up my route within about an hour and headed back to the MIFA office to “check out”.  I went on about my normal day but reflected upon the morning I had:   The recipients of the lunches I delivered are filled with decades of wisdom and probably have the greatest stories to share, and I hope I’m dedicated enough to become a “regular” volunteer so they become familiar enough with me to want to impart some of that wisdom.  I need all I can get.  And once I get it, I’m gonna keep it for myself. Get your own, jeeeez.


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