Last Thursday I was co-pilot and navigator for the retired man I live with while we delivered Mobile Meals to home-bound seniors. A few are couples, most are single men who take a while to get to the door. We had to ask at each stop if they needed a meal for Thanksgiving. Over half did, just for one person.
A haunting picture lives in my brain these days: an older man in a white undershirt watching the Macy’s parade eating a reheated Thanksgiving dinner on a metal tv tray (remember those?) with a carton of milk like we had in elementary school. The meal was delivered about 9:30 Thanksgiving morning by a nice man with a Mobile Meals sign on top of his car. That picture is slowly breaking my heart.
Every third Thursday of the month, the retired man I live with and I stick a Mobile Meals sign on top of the white Camry and deliver a hot meal sealed in a little black plastic tray (like a Lean Cuisine), mostly to older men living alone but sometimes to a couple still living together or an older woman. (I’m 61–they are older, not old.) The meals are prepared by Golden Corral and packed in expensive special coolers so they stay hot. Last Thursday we delivered Salisbury steak, rice, mixed vegetables, hot apple slices, milk, juice, and a peanut butter cookie. The meals ride in the coolers, one hot, one cold, in the back seat. They all seem to smell the same, no matter what’s in the tray.
The retired man I live with takes the meals to the front door. Often the recipient is waiting and opens the door as he approaches. I wait in the car and put the next address into the GPS. He gives me a report. One man must be ex-military–he is always sharply groomed and the part of the apartment visible from the front stoop is clean and tidy. Last week he didn’t get a meal. Our sheet says he is in the hospital. Another man’s place smells awful and I can see his baggy, used-to-be-white undershirt as he reaches for the food. A man who takes care of his wife writes a poem and gives us a copy each month. His faith spills out on the page.
One person didn’t answer the door last Thursday and we didn’t know if she was in the hospital or visiting family. We gave that meal to a man standing with a cardboard sign on the corner near Panera, at the Target-PetSmart-Payless Shoes shopping center. We had no forks or knives, but he gratefully took the food. “It’s hot!” he said about the food and he smiled and blessed us and said “It’s a good day because God let me get up this morning.” We were quiet for a bit as we drove off. I don’t think he cared how it smelled.
Once we tried to give a leftover meal to a woman holding a cardboard sign standing on the corner beside Chik Fil-A, not far from the Whole Foods parking lot. I rolled down my window, asked if she wanted the meal and she asked me what it was. I told her (it was meatloaf, I think) and she said “No.” Not even “No, thanks.” I was speechless. We found a skinny man (a boy?) on another corner and he was hungry and even had his own plastic fork and knife. He smiled and said, “Thank you!”
Thanksgiving is this week. We will drive to our daughter’s house in Raleigh and get there around noon. Our son-in-law will be creating a feast, my daughter will be setting the table with a white tablecloth, china, flowers and candles. I’ll contribute a casserole dish of corn pudding and homemade Blueberry Cranberry Sauce. We’ll visit with some of our son-in-law’s relatives that we only see once or twice a year and get in line to play with our almost-2-year-old granddaughter. My daughter wants us to go around the table and share memories of my brother who died this summer. He was always part of our holidays.
Before we go to Raleigh, the retired man I live with and I will gather with many other volunteers in the parking lot at the Greensboro Coliseum to pick up meals to deliver to clients of Triad Health Project. I’m on the Board of Directors for this non-profit that serves people who are HIV positive. The Mobile Meals volunteers will be there, too, in another line.
Two restaurant owners started over 20 years ago fixing Thanksgiving dinner for anyone who wanted one . The project has grown into a massive community volunteer effort. So many people have offered to help that they have a waiting list for volunteers! Meals will also be served on real plates at tables with real tablecloths and centerpieces a 2 churches (one is our church) and Urban Ministry’s Potter House. Church vans with volunteer drivers will make a couple of stops downtown and carry folks to the places with food and then take them back downtown nurtured and fed.
Our own Thanksgiving feast is easier to swallow when we know so many others are eating well, too.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!