Meals on Wheels volunteers Kristen Conrad (left) and Susan Mele prepare gift bags for low-income customers on December 16 (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / )
Copyright © 2021
On a Thursday morning, Meals on Wheels headquarters in Albuquerque recalled something from Santa’s workshop.
About a dozen volunteers worked their way through a selection of candles, pairs of socks, puzzle books, and other items for gift bags to be distributed to 259 low-income customers of the organization later in the week before Christmas.
Within a very short time, all the gift bags were put together and placed in large piles on the walls of the room.
While many of the volunteers took their time from their usual driving duties or helped with administrative tasks by hiring out temporary workers, they said the holiday season really isn’t any different from their normal daily routine – it’s just another chance, the community hand back.
“I don’t really feel a difference because I do the same thing,” said volunteer driver Karl Byrd as he organized a stack of gift bags. “I like to help people, whether it’s a public holiday or not, all year round.”
But for some customers of the nonprofit, a meal – and a gift – can be even more meaningful during the holiday season.
Shauna Frost, the organization’s executive director, said that for the vast majority of Meals on Wheels customers, volunteers are often the only person they see and speak to on a daily or regular basis, and that goes for the holidays too.
“We had a gentleman phone call a few years ago and that sticks in my mind (because he said), ‘You gave me Christmas. I haven’t had a family in town for years and no one has given me a present. … You gave me Christmas for the first time in years, ”she said.
Meals on Wheels has been operating in Albuquerque for 49 years, delivering specially prepared meals to approximately 550 customers every day.
Meals on Wheels employees Zoe Goodrow, left, and Caillin Murray sort gift bags for low-income customers on December 16, 2021. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / )
There are no age, disability, or income requirements, although many of the organization’s customers are elderly or disabled and the daily delivery of groceries means that the customers will be checked regularly by someone.
It is this chance to build lasting, meaningful connections with customers that draws many of the volunteers to return.
“I’m like the first person you see in my day and (for) some of you are the only people you see, us drivers,” said Byrd. “It’s really nice to interact with people and build relationships.”
Volunteer Caroline Hardison also said it is her relationships with Meals on Wheels customers that she has volunteered over the past four years.
Her job, she said, often includes getting to know her customers and helping with small things when she can, whether it’s cleaning the fridge or learning what makes her smile.
“The recipients always feel very blessed for what we bring them, but the secret is that I am the one who is being blessed,” she said.