Meals-on-Wheels brings holiday cheer
Published 2:01 pm, Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Meals-on-Wheels of New Canaan is one of those rare charitable organizations that is active 52 weeks out of the year. It just so happens they are needed even more around the holidays.
"One of things I think is unique is that we do deliver five days a week, 52 weeks a year," Pam Crigler, who organizes many of the different volunteers and driving routes, said. "Because we deliver on Thanksgiving and on Christmas; any holiday that falls on a weekday, we are delivering on that day."
The clients include anyone in town who can no longer make food "necessary to maintain their health and independence" regardless of age or income. Their purpose is fairly self explanatory but the process is anything but easy.
"We all work very hard to make sure these people are getting the meals they need on time," Crigler said. "With more than 50 people enrolled in the program, we have to make sure we organize everything properly for it to run smoothly everyday."
The MOWNC started nearly 37 years ago by Bette Chackes and a few other women who wanted to make a difference. They used to make the food in their own kitchen and deliver it themselves. Now MOWNC operates out of the Waveny Care Center and involves more than 20 organizations and groups from around town. On any given day, a few organizations like St. Mark's Episcopal Church or the Kiwanis Club of New Canaan send in volunteers to help pack and deliver food to various elderly and disabled residents.
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"There is a lot of enjoyment from the organization's side. They work with their volunteers to make sure they get their routes covered," Crigler said. "I coordinate usually 12 or 13 different routes a month."
Obviously, it's not just about the food. Crigler said it involves much more on a personal and emergency level.
"Sometimes we're the only people they see that day. So if something has happened, after all these are elderly people, we are there as another contact point for them in those emergency situations," she said. "They like to chat because we might be the only person they get to see that they. So it's nice for them to see us and have a nice conversation to brighten their day up just a little bit."
Diane Khzouz, the coordinator of the whole Meals-on-Wheels operation, also stressed that it is more than just the food. The volunteers have a relationship with the people they see on their routes. So they always try to make sure things are going well for these clients, many of whom live completely alone.
"I always call to follow up if something is not right with our clients. Often times they have a doctor's appointment or something like that, but we always like to know if someone is not there," Khzouz said. "Because our volunteers get worried and if they don't see someone they normally see then it worries me and I always call. And if I can't get them then we call a relative and if I can't get a relative then we notify Human Services. We like to make sure everyone is doing well."
Khzouz finds the role of coordinator challenging but rewarding at the same time. She attempted to develop as many personal relationships with the clients as possible.
"I like being part of the community and getting to know the clients," Khzouz said. "I always go out the first time a client gets on our list and always make the first delivery myself. I want them to know who they are talking to so they can put a face with someone on the phone."
One of those clients is 89-year-old Karola Schuette, who lives by herself in the Schoolhouse Apartments. Schuette started with Meals-on-Wheels in 2004 after she had major congestive heart failure and could no longer handle her meal needs on her own.
"I was still driving at the time but I just couldn't get to the store on my own and then put the stuff in the car and unload it. It became too much. Bit by bit, things stopped and I thought what am I going do?" Schuette said.
Eventually, she donated her car to the Red Cross and joined MOWNC full time. Like most clients, she gets two meals a day, which includes one hot and cold for dinner and lunch. It was a huge relief for her and her family.
"It meant peace of mind for me and also my children. Because they can't always come. Bless the lord they are still working so far," Schuette said. "What I also love is community spirit. People in the summer time, they come with their little children and it teaches them the volunteer aspect of it all. Many times for days like Halloween, they come in their own little costume and it's just lovely. This entire community is just so tight knit because to orchestrate this whole thing with volunteers is just mind boggling. It's fabulous."
To volunteer to drive please contact Pam Crigler at MOWofNC@gmail.com. Interested clients or their family members may call Diane Khzouz at MOW@waveny.org or 203-594-5318 for more information about qualifying for services.