Between talk about grandkids and sips of coffee, a group of about a dozen men and women gather every Monday through Friday to start their day by helping make sure the community’s most fragile get what they need, packing kosher meals and delivering them throughout the community.
The food won’t go to a shelter or a school, but rather to a group of Baltimore-area residents enrolled in Central Maryland’s kosher Meals on Wheels program.
Meals on Wheels has been delivering kosher meals to observant Jews who struggle to cook or shop for themselves since 1960. Inspired by programs developed to help Londoners during World War II and, later, Philadelphians interested in helping the frail live at home longer, Ernestine McCollum of the Maryland Home Economics Association and Beatrice Strouse from the Baltimore section of the National Council of Jewish Women founded a kosher food delivery program in Baltimore. Since then, the program has grown into Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, which serves some 3,000 clients in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties.
Each day begins at exactly 8 a.m. for the volunteers who help keep the program running, some of whom volunteer once a week, others as often as three times a week. After they put on their hair nets and aprons, they get to work on the dairy portion of the meals. Each person has a station along the production line: One woman gathers the fresh fruit, another puts the pre-packed juice into each bag, another still packs containers of pasta salad.
After they have finished sorting the dairy, volunteers go straight into packaging the meat meals which, on Fridays, contain all of the Shabbat staples, like matzah ball soup and potatoes, in portions large enough to often last through part of the weekend.
At 10:30, the shifts switch and the delivery volunteers replace the kitchen volunteers, though some kitchen workers will occasionally elect to make delivery runs as well. Each delivery person takes a route with anywhere from seven to 13 addresses on it. Over the course of the next hour and a half, the drivers, sometimes husband-and-wife or coworker teams who choose to deliver together, stop at every single house or apartment on their list and drop off the packages.
The people the organization feeds range in income and age. Some, said Ellen Falk, director of volunteer services, are young but were born with or acquired later in life disabilities that make shopping and cooking on their own difficult. Others are older and need the extra help. For all of their clients, she said, Meals on Wheels is largely responsible for allowing them to live at home rather than a care facility, something that has become increasingly helpful at a time when many Americans are struggling with the rising cost of assisted living.
Financial assistance in paying for the meals is based on a sliding scale, said Falk, and any one delivery route can run the gamut from high-end condominium to low-income house.
Doreen Garron estimates that she and her husband have been receiving the meals to their Park Heights condominium three days a week for about a year.
“It took a long time to convince you know who,” she said gesturing
to her husband. But now, both are happy. “It’s a very nice feeling of relief, that I don’t have to shop for [food] or cook for it,” she said. On days when they don’t get Meals on Wheels deliveries, she said, they mix it up and order out from local restaurants or stores.
For Maxine Soloman, the food delivery has resulted in her eating more than she has in a long time.
“I’m not much of a cook anyway,” she joked, adding that some of her friends who participate don’t like some of the food, but she’s happy just to get a balanced meal she doesn’t have to make herself. “Meals on Wheels, for me, is great.”
For Falk, who spends most days traveling from site to site checking in on the volunteers and trying to raise awareness about the program, the ability to tag along on deliveries is one of the perks of the job. In addition to getting to know the volunteers, some of whom joined the team as a result of family members’ having received the meals in the past, she enjoys the chance to talk with the clients.
“Regardless of what kind of day you’re having, it just turns everything around,” she said.