Chestnut Hill resident Kristin Vongvixay and her 11-year-old son, Julien Vongvixay deliver meals to neighbors in Chestnut Hill. Vongvixay volunteers as a driver for Wheels on Meals. (Photo credit Sandor Welsh)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Kristin Vongvixay, of Chestnut Hill, was looking for a way to give back to her community when she decided to become a Meals on Wheels driver. Although her family does make occasional monetary donations to various charities, she said she wanted to do more.

“It was easy for us to give a little here and give a little there,” Vongvixay said. “I wanted to dedicate some of my personal time to giving back to the community. My parents are not here, so I thought I would like to help take care of other parents.”

Vongvixay, 39, the mother of an 11-year-old boy, has a hectic schedule. As owner of a graphic design business called M1NT and a part-time teacher at Temple University, she is constantly juggling her schedule, but every Wednesday morning Vongvixay carves out an hour to deliver freshly prepared nutritious meals to Chestnut Hill residents.

“I specifically requested the Chestnut Hill neighborhood because that’s where I am from – and I am a terrible driver,” Vongvixay said, laughing.

Vongvixay said she loved seeing the same people and enjoyed chatting with her neighbors.

“It’s very nurturing for them,” she said. “They ask how my son is. They love sharing their stories.”

Vongvixay said her clients like it when someone younger visits. During spring break, Vongvixay’s son Julien helped to deliver the homemade meals. She said he loves it, adding that even people who may be a bit reserved tend to open up when they meet a “young friend.”

“It’s all about being a friend,” said Lynne Mason, volunteer coordinator for Meals on Wheels. “Sometimes, the volunteer may be the only person they see.”

Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels delivers freshly prepared meals Monday through Friday. Volunteers come to the Keystone House where they pick up meals that were specially prepared that day by their chef. The meals are delivered before noon and each contains a cold lunch and hot supper. Currently, the program serves 50 people throughout Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, Flourtown, Erdenheim, Wyndmoor, Oreland and a small portion of Glenside.

“The number of services varies day to day depending upon clients’ personal schedules,” Mason said.

On average, Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels delivers 40 meals a day. The meals are tailored to meet the client’s needs, but they tend to be “low sodium, low sugar or sugar free.”

“We do an intake visit to access the dietary needs of the client and arrange delivery instructions,” Mason said. “Besides being inexpensive and convenient, there is a social component.”

Mason said many seniors may not eat because they feel tired from the medication they may be taking or feel depressed, but when someone comes to the door with a smile and the aroma of a homemade meal they may change their mind.

Mason added that if the weather or road conditions are dangerous, Meals on Wheels doesn’t deliver. Instead, all clients receive emergency packages in advance that contain nonperishable items, such as macaroni and cheese, tuna fish, peanut butter, granola bars and cheese and crackers.

Mason, who started out as a volunteer, said she loves working at Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels.

“I love what I do and occasionally, when a volunteer can’t come in, I get to deliver,” Mason said. “It’s a nice way to be part of the community.”