POLK COUNTY – Dan Mann has been delivering meals to seniors for more than two decades.
On July 30, Mann — the Meals on Wheels of Polk County board treasurer and a State Farm Insurance agent — delivered meals to seniors residing between Lake Alfred and Haines City and invited the Sun to tag along.
The program has long played a vital role for area seniors for a variety of reasons and, for obvious reasons, has been even more crucial during the pandemic.
During the ride-along experience, several recipients shared what having the program available to them has meant. Their stories reveal the fulfilling experience that can be had by volunteering.
Upon pulling up to the first house, Nancy Donahue was outside checking her mail. In June, she injured her wrist, which made cooking difficult. Nancy explained that while the Meals on Wheels food is wonderful, she would likely return to cooking all of her own meals.
“There's a lot of people who need it more than me,” Nancy said.
She was not the only senior to express a desire to return to independence as soon as possible.
Doris Mooers will be 89 in November and her husband, Charles, turns 90 this month. Doris said she has used Meals on Wheels temporarily while living in other parts of the country. She lives here now, close to her daughter.
“She deserves a break, she has a life also,” Doris explained.
Doris said Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers also help keep her family safe at home during the pandemic. She said she was thankful for the service.
Thomas Pelletier explained that, for years, his wife did most of the household cooking. Starting around three years ago, he found himself having to meet that family need. Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers have been helping him for the past year with a daily meal for he and his wife.
At the fourth stop, a man named John answered the door wearing business attire. John was a bit shy at first but eventually offered to talk about his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins over a few beers. While the offer had to be declined, John seemed to enjoy a short opportunity to talk about golf and Sand Cranes.
Patricia also answered the door dressed nice, shivering Chihuahua dog “Lily Mae” in tow. Her eyes were evidence that she meant what she said. Patricia said none of her sons and daughters live in Florida and they all think she can't care for herself. One of her sons pays for food to be delivered. While she did not choose the service, she appreciated it and said the meals are tasty.
Mr. Avery was lying down, sweating after doing a couple hours of weeding outside. He looked tired, but took advantage of the opportunity to talk to a couple of guys delivering food.
“This is a terrible time of year to do anything,” Avery said.
Avery said he moved to Florida to get away from the New Hampshire cold but summer in Florida is a special kind of heat. With a smile, he described his delivered lunch as a “Happy Meal.”
“They are happy meals,” Avery said. “I don't eat too much to begin with, try not to gain too much weight, but I like this food. It's good food and done well. I appreciate this.”
On the ride back to the kitchen, Mann reflected on the organization’s need for more volunteers. Mann said thanks to generous donors, including a recent grant from the City of Winter Haven, the agency is financially sound, but that more volunteers would make a world of difference.
On any given day, around 10 people volunteer their time to deliver meals made by staff. If the board had access to more volunteers, that would allow existing volunteers more time to enjoy other parts of life.
Mann said he enjoys volunteering because it helps to clear his mind and allows him to see problems more as challenges.
“It's the best therapy I can have,” Mann said. “To come out and see nice people like this, you realize that, one, you are helping them a little bit but, two, it helps me realize that I have challenges and opportunities, not problems.
“Volunteering is as good for me as it is for them.“