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Spiritual nourishment in community

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A day in the life of a meal on wheels

In Lancaster, Mass., a chef is making hamburgers and mashed potatoes to be served with a side of corn. He shakes in paprika, a suggestion made by registered dietitians based on feedback from seniors.

The dishes are cooked in the caterer’s kitchen, quick-chilled, wrapped, and delivered cold to Erving. There they’re unloaded and brought into the LifePath ReTherm Kitchen, where they’re kept overnight in the walk-in refrigerator.

At 7:00 a.m. manager Sue Tidlund puts the pans into glowing ovens next to over a hundred pounds of frozen vegetables that are also waking up. The science of the Retherm Kitchen is precise: the food is held at 275-300 degrees for 120 minutes.

Meals on Wheels Bryanna NadeauBryanna Nadeau seals a hot meal at the Meals on Wheels kitchen in Erving.The morning light and the staff connecting to each other with smiles and jokes make the industrial kitchen feel like a relative's home.

Sue came to this job after managing the dining center at The Weldon in Greenfield where her mom lived. Seventeen years later, that experience of caretaking for elders through cooking seems to infuse the way she moves through the kitchen, relaxed and trading notes with her staff.

At 9:00, the esprit de corps heats up as staff choreograph an assembly line to build 500 individual trays by hand. Glinting silvery light bounces off serving spoons.

The individually wrapped hot meals get packed inside the red heated bags, and a slice of bread, milk carton, and dessert are packed in cold coolers before everything is hauled out by volunteer drivers into their cars around 9:30 and take off down the roads, each to a separate town.

Meals on Wheels driver Bob Tidlund with food in car hatch photo for webVolunteer Meals on Wheels driver Bob Tidlund loads heated bags of hot meals into his car for delivery to local elders."You can't ask for a better job," says Sue’s husband, driver Bob Tidlund, who’s been shuttling meals to a drop-off for Northfield and Bernardston for three years. When the weather is so treacherous that the volunteer drivers can't pick up their deliveries, the staff of the ReTherm Kitchen take them around. Even when the weather is prime, the program can have be short on coverage. Currently, Northfield, Bernardston, and Gill-Montague routes are under-staffed and are in need of volunteers.

Sue reports, “All our drivers are so sweet. Most times they spend at least a few minutes talking to each person. They become part of the family. What makes me really appreciate them is the number of times a driver has come in after a delivery and said, ‘So and so doesn’t look right.’ We call that in (to a social worker or family member) and we’ve been able to prevent some real mishaps.”

If you’re interested in joining a group of people who know what it’s like to give or receive a hot meal every day, contact us or donate to the Meals on Wheels Walkathon this spring. Checks can be made out to Meals on Wheels and mailed to: 330 Montague City Road, Turners Falls, MA 01376. Learn more about additional volunteering and giving opportunities.