Wheeling… the circle that gives forever

Ed Stephens is 87 years old. A widower, he retired some years ago from the CNR where he toiled for years as an engineer, first in steam, then in diesel.

Ed lives in Allandale, as he always has, with his son who suffers from epilepsy.

Twice a week, Ed opens the door to a friendly face who places two meals on his kitchen table, gives a friendly greeting, a hearty handshake and connection to the outside world.

Once a month, Ed drives down to the Red Cross building on High St and pays his Meals on Wheels bill, $4 a meal for he and his son… $16 a week, $54 a month. This makes all the difference in Ed’s world.

“I’ve been doing this for six months now,” confides Ed. “If it wasn’t for my son’s help, and Meals on Wheels, I’d be in a home. Meals on Wheels helps me stay in my home. I got a stair lift a few months ago, too. I’m going to stay here as long as I can.”

Ed’s experience is similar to dozens of people across Barrie who open their doors once, twice, five times a week to receive a hot meal and the human contact that comes with it.

Behind this program is a virtual army of volunteers, some working from church groups or their employment, some working in pairs, and others as individuals giving back to their community. That’s the case for Shirley Knight and Mary Woodstock. They team up every Monday night, showing up at the dispatch room at the back of Royal Victoria Hospital. Here they meet six other teams who each complete a route of 6, 10, 15, or so homes where people are waiting for a hot meal.

Soup and crackers. Main course. Dessert. Juice. The meals come from RVH’s kitchen, get bundled into heated containers and then are transferred into heated bags for their individual deliveries.

Shirley drives. Mary delivers. Mary chats with her recipients while Shirley transfers the next meal into the heated bag; Mary gets back in the car and they drive on. The whole process takes a couple of hours and they’ve been doing this together for eight years, much longer individually.

Who are the recipients of their kind intentions? “A lot are people who’ve been sick. Some men live alone and don’t (or can’t) cook. A lot of people get a hot meal every day, though some, like Ed, are less frequent,” says Shirley. “We’ll have people who’ve broken a leg or an arm or are just home from hospital. We have alot of older people.”

The Shirley-Mary route is one of the longest… they start at Sanford St., then Bradford, Campbell AV, Adelaide, Cumberland, Burton, Yonge St and Big Bay Pt Rd, Chambers St. and Carol Rd, ending at Heritage Place on Brooks St. They’re usually home by 6 pm.

“We enjoy it. Mary and I have become good friends. We usually give a Christmas gift to our recipients; one year we made chocolate turtles, another year we bought little Santa clocks.

Shirley says most of the Meals on Wheels volunteers are in their 50’s and 60’s, though she worked with one woman who was 81 and refused to use the elevator when delivering… she just vaulted up the stairs!

For Mary Woodstock, delivering Meals on Wheels gives to nher as much as she gives to the program. “When my husband and I moved back to Barrie, I responded to an ad for drivers, went in for an interview and recognized how important it is for people to stay in their own homes and if I can help by delivering meals once a week, then it’s worth it.”

Mary started delivering Mondays and 15 years later, she’s still a Monday delivery person. “I get so attached to our recipients. We’ve had people who live totally alone with maybe a pet. We have people who ask if we deliver Christmas Day, which means they’re going to be totally alone. We have people whose children live in other countries. The sad part is that we’re on a route and can’t stay to visit as long as we’d like,” she says. She points out that the Red Cross does have a friendly visiting program with volunteers who make tea time visits to people who live alone.

“What do I receive? People’s gratitude. They want to share their lives with us. It’s so rewarding to help people keep their independence.”

For Liivi Stephenson, being a Meals on Wheels dispatcher is something that has come with retirement. Former human resources manager with K-Mart, Liivi began volunteering with Meals on Wheels as soon as K-Mart closed five years ago. Liivi went through the police check and some training before becoming a driver one night and a dispatcher another night.

Meals on Wheels takes 15 volunteers every day, one to drive and one to deliver for every route in Barrie. People can volunteer monthly, weekly, biweekly etc, depending on their schedule. They can take time off for vacations and the organizers work around them.

Jan Bowser, Service Coordinator with Red Cross, says being a Meals on Wheels volunteer makes a huge difference to the community. And she needs volunteers now. If you’re interested, you can call her at 721-3313 X223.

Mary probably says it best: “I laugh and say to my husband… in a few years we’ll be sitting here and someone will deliver our meals! It’s a cycle.”

Thanks, Mary. Thanks, Shirley. Thanks, Liivi. And thanks to the other volunteers who make this happen. You, too, if you’re so inclined.