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.
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 www.mifa.org/volunteer to find out how you can help.