by Sue Ann Rybak
For four decades, Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels has provided seniors and homebound residents with more than just a warm meal – it has given them hope, kindness and friendship.
As a volunteer and recipient of Meals on Wheels, 95-year-old Kenny Milner, of Wyndmoor, knows firsthand the gift of love that Meals on Wheels brings to its clients.
“Most of my friends have passed away,” said Milner, who delivers meals with his daughter Maureen “Alex” Alexander, 65, on Friday afternoons. “Volunteering has opened up a whole new avenue of friendship. When you talk to people they are real honest with you and you learn about their past.”
Philip D’Amico, of Chestnut Hill, smiles when he sees Milner and his daughter walk into the living room.
“Phil was in the service same as I was,” said Milner, who served in World War II and was a lifelong reservist. But, he’s only 88 years old.”
D’Amico jokes with Milner saying, “He has a lot of catching up to do before he turns 95.”
“The bad feature about being a volunteer is that you know people, and when they pass away it makes you realize how lucky you are,” he tells me later in the car.
Milner started delivering food for Meals on Wheels about five years ago after moving to Chestnut Hill from Cumberland County, N.J.
Alexander, of West Mt. Airy, suggested that her father, who was always an avid volunteer, deliver meals once a week to make the transition easier.
“He was still driving and I wanted to get him a little more familiar with the geography,” she said. “My long-term plan was to have my Mom and Dad feel comfortable having someone come to their house when their lifestyle changed.”
“When I first started I thought it was for handicapped people who couldn’t afford it,” said Milner. “And that’s not true. It’s really for people who are unable to go out and have meals, so the meals come to them.”
“I found, in my own personal life, my wife and I eat healthier now than we did before we participated in the program,” he said. “Before, we would just eat sandwiches and stuff like that because it’s hard to cook for just one or two people. The meals are delicious and there is a large variety of meals.”
When asked what he liked about volunteering for Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels, he quickly replied “making new friends.”
“A lot of times I will go a whole week without seeing anyone outside of my wife and Maureen,” Milner said. “So, I look forward to seeing Steve and his wife, Suzanne, [volunteers for Meals on Wheels] who deliver meals to us on Thursdays.
“Now that I don’t drive, I am more or less homebound,” he added. “I would say right now three of my best friends are people who deliver meals – Steve, Suzanne and Doug.”
Alexander said that for some people, the mailman and CHMW volunteers are the only visitors they may have in the course of a day.
“The fact that my dad is so active and engaging is reassuring for the people we visit,” she said. “I think they like the idea of seeing someone from their generation.”
Alexander added that often the package will include a card, note, flower or other goodies to remind clients that there are people in their community who are thinking about them.
“The most basic thing you can do to offer love or kindness to another person is to feed them,” she said. “It’s fundamental.”
Pat Harrington, executive director of Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels, said the number of meals they expect to serve from January of this year until June is estimated at 25,000.
For just $8 a day, clients receive two meals a day, a cold lunch and a hot dinner, which includes a dessert.
Since the the program first began in 1975, it has doubled in size from about 40 clients to a little over 80.
Katie Palopoli,volunteer coordinator for CHMW, said anyone who is 60 and over or homebound – even temporarily – can participate in the program.
Harrington said you do not have to qualify for financial aid to participate in the program. She added that while some programs are fully subsidized, Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels is private pay. She noted that about a quarter of its clients receive meals for free or at a reduced cost.
Palopoli added that without the dedication and commitment of volunteers the organization could not exist.
“Regardless of weather, the number of people in need or their own hectic schedules, our volunteers answer the call to serve our neighbors who are challenged by preparing nutritious meals,” she said. “The Meals on Wheels drivers do more than deliver meals – they deliver relationships, and I believe that is what keeps us all going – our connections with people. I always tell people interested in volunteering, ‘if you have one hour a month to give, we will take it – you really have no idea what your one hour will add to another person’s life.’”
For more information about Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels or to make a donation call 215-233-5555 or go to chestnuthillmow.com.