Serving up cheer all year - Albuquerque Journal

Serving up cheer all year

Meals on Wheels volunteers Kristen Conrad, left, and Susan Mele prepare gift bags for low-income clients on December 16. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

On a recent Thursday morning, the Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque headquarters resembled something out of Santa’s Workshop.

About a dozen volunteers diligently worked their way through a selection of candles, pairs of socks, puzzle books and other items for gift bags that would later be distributed to 259 of the organization’s low-income clients in the week before Christmas.

Within a short amount of time, all of the gift bags were assembled and placed in large piles lining the walls of the room.

bright spotWhile many of the volunteers took time from their usual tasks of driving or helping with administrative duties by filling in as temporary elves, they said the holiday season really isn’t any different than their normal day to day routine – it’s simply just another chance to give back to the community.

“I don’t really feel a difference that much because I’m doing the same thing,” volunteer driver Karl Byrd said as he organized a pile of gift bags. “I like to help people, whether it’s a holiday or not, and I do that year round.”

But, for some of the nonprofit’s clients, a meal – and a gift – during the holiday season can take on an even greater meaning.

Shauna Frost, the organization’s executive director, said that, for the vast majority of Meals on Wheels clients, volunteers are often the only person clients see and talk to on a daily or regular basis, and this extends to the holidays.

“We had one gentleman call a couple of years ago and this always sticks with me (because he said) ‘You guys gave me Christmas. I haven’t had family in town for years and nobody’s given me a present. … You guys gave me Christmas for the first time in years,’ ” she said.

Meals on Wheels has operated in Albuquerque for 49 years and hand-delivers specially made meals to about 550 clients on a daily basis.

Meals on Wheels staffers Zoe Goodrow, left, and Caillin Murray sort gift bags for low-income clients on December 16, 2021. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

There is no age, disability or income requirement, though many of the organization’s clients are elderly or disabled and the daily delivery of food means clients have someone checking in on them on a regular basis.

It’s that chance to form lasting, meaningful connections with clients that keeps many of the volunteers coming back.

“I’m like the first person they see in their day and (for) some of them, the only people they see are us drivers,” Byrd said. “It’s really neat to interact with people and develop a relationship.”

Volunteer Caroline Hardison also said it’s the relationships she’s made with Meals on Wheels clients that has kept her volunteering for the past four years.

Part of her job, she said, often involves getting to know her clients and helping out with small things when she can, whether that’s cleaning out their fridge or learning what makes them smile.

“The recipients are always feeling very blessed for what we bring them, but the secret is I’m the one being blessed,” she said.

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