After only a half-hour, the logistics of running a Meals on Wheels route starts to feel instinctive.
Punch in the next address into GPS. Drive to the next house. Pop open the door to the trunk. Grab a hot meal and a cold meal from the insulated delivery bags. Walk up the steps to the front door. Be greeted by a smiling senior and perhaps their friendly dog.
Duke Sanford School of Public Policy employees run this Durham route every Friday for Meals on Wheels of Durham, a nonprofit that delivers lunches to its clients every weekday so that homebound adults, from the elderly to the disabled, receive the nutritious meals they need.
Sanford employees have been volunteering with Meals on Wheels of Durham for about 10 years. On a recent Friday, Jonathan Abels, executive director of Sanford’s Center for International Development, and Linda Simpson, a staff assistant in Sanford, drove around in Abels’ tan van. They dropped off meals to folks at their front doors or were invited into people’s kitchens, where content cats snaked between their feet, or they had compassionate conversations about the client’s health. Many of these clients live alone, and the Meals on Wheels visit may be one of their only social interactions during the week.
“It’s an eye-opening experience,” Simpson said when she got back in the van. She was delivering hot meals of country-fried steak as well as sandwiches to feed clients through the weekend. “You see people who are less fortunate than you are. It puts things in perspective, because that could be you one day or a relative.”
Meals on Wheels of Durham received a $3,900 Community Care Fund grant from Doing Good in the Neighborhood in 2016. The Community Care Fund is a competitive grant-making program for diverse Triangle nonprofits. One-hundred percent of that grant went toward food – Meals on Wheels of Durham has a partnership with Spicy Green Gourmet Catering, which supplies meals Monday through Friday. For weekends, Meals on Wheels volunteers make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to distribute to clients so they don’t go days without a meal.
Gale Singer Adland, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Durham, put Doing Good in the Neighborhood contributions in perspective. She said $100 can feed a client for an entire month, and each meal costs about $3.85.
“That money is very impactful, and people have the ability to help one of their elderly neighbors in Durham,” Adland said. “There has definitely been an increase in the demand. Two years ago, we were feeding 300 people.”
Now, Meals on Wheels of Durham is feeding about 540 clients, with many more on the waiting list, as Durham’s aging population increases. Many clients are in their 80’s or 90’s, and the organization gives out about 440 hot meals every day.
Abels of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy said Meals on Wheels of Durham is not just about providing meals. The nonprofit provides social contact and further help for the clients who need it.
He said Meals on Wheels volunteers get to know their clients, since volunteers usually run the same route. Abels remembered helping a client get his smoke detector battery replaced. And a woman who had ceramic figurines of elephants all over her living room. And a client who gifted him with a ceramic mug because she was so grateful he stopped by.
That Friday, one of Abels’ and Simpson’s last stops was the home of a retired schoolteacher. The woman, who was 100 years old, sat on the front porch. On her table was a copy of the New Testament and AARP Magazine. The TV blared in the background.
“It makes me feel so good,” the woman said about Meals on Wheels of Durham. “You see someone doing something for you, for your life, and it shows you that they care.”
Everyone shared a smile on the front porch.
“You make us all feed good,” Simpson replied. “We love coming to see you.”
Support organizations like Meals on Wheels of Durham by making a gift to the Community Care Fund giving category of Doing Good in the Neighborhood. Duke employees can make a gift year-round that supports the important work of local nonprofits, schools and neighborhoods.