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A Volunteer's Story

A Volunteer's Story: "Now they're like family."

Meet Meals on Wheels driver, Alan Coutinho

“My first priority is giving back to any community that I’ve lived in,” says Alan Coutinho, a volunteer Meals on Wheels driver. “I’ve been driving in the town of Shelburne for ten years.”

On a warm September day, Alan waits outside the Senior Center in Shelburne Falls. Soon the shuttle driver will arrive with hot and cold meals prepared at the Meals on Wheels kitchen in Millers Falls.

"They all have their stories"

“I enjoy the interaction with all my clients,” says Alan. “You learn some great history and stories that you’d never have known without meeting these people. They’re all unique and special in their own way. They all have their stories.”

Alan heard one story that’s stayed with him. While delivering meals to a woman and her daughter who were both recipients of the service, he learned about her late husband. In the Navy during WWII, the man was aboard the SS Indianapolis when it sank in the South Pacific and survived several weeks in shark-infested waters before being rescued.

Alan is a Navy man himself. After 27 years in the military, where he traveled around the world during the Cold War as a Naval Cryptologist, Alan retired to Shelburne with his wife, Deborah, who is originally from the town.

Deborah continued to work as an EMT and as an in-house personal care worker, and Alan kept his eye out for opportunities to help out in his new community. “I’m not going to stay home and do nothing,” says Alan. “I have to keep busy.” When he saw an ad in the paper saying that LifePath was looking for volunteer drivers to deliver Meals on Wheels, Alan signed up.

Meals on Wheels is a family tradition

“Thirty-five years ago, my father used to deliver Meals on Wheels in Martha’s Vineyard. The person that I trained with had done it for 21 years. He was 85 when I took over his route.” Alan is 74-years-old now. “So I’ve been doing it for ten - I’ve still got a ways to go to catch him.”

The shuttle driver arrives, and Alan is up and in action. “I’m loading my car with my hot and cold meals; I’m getting a list of new and existing customers that have either cancelled or stopped, and a new customer that I’ve got to start today. So, onward and upward. With all those customers, it totals 24 today.”

Driving 40 to 50 miles each day, Alan will visit between 20 and 25 homebound elders on any given day. “I do it five days a week, so I enjoy it,” Alan says. “I enjoy talking to my clients, and I hope that they enjoy taking with me.”

On the road to Emily's house

Alan and EmilyAlan likes to make each person smile. Every day, he brings along a new joke to share. On this day, one of Alan’s clients is Emily Nelson of Ashfield. On the road to her house, Alan says, “She’s an avid reader.” He has a new book for her to read this week.

When Alan arrives, Emily is sitting in a rocker on her front porch, taking in the sun. She has a paperback in her hand and calls out to Alan with a smile, “You’re late!”

Alan shoots her a grin and comes up to the porch, chuckling. “Haven’t you finished that one yet?” He holds up the book he’s brought, another David Balducci thriller. The story will only take her four and a half hours to read through before she’s ready for another.

Living on her own in an apartment in the country, Emily got through her recovery period after hip surgery thanks to the help of Alan and those books. “He’s amazing,” Emily says.

They go inside, and Alan places a hot meal of Jambalaya, brown rice, peas, whole wheat bread, and Mandarin oranges on Emily’s kitchen counter. “Without the Meals on Wheels he delivers,” Emily says, “I wouldn’t get nutrition. I’m a grazer. I don’t eat real meals.”

"Now they're like family"

“Bringing a hot meal to each individual is considerably better than them staying home and eating food out of a can or cheese and crackers because that’s all they have,” says Alan.

If a client is not in their normal place, the drivers get worried. “A lot of my clients have family and friends that come in” with food or to visit, says Alan, but for many, they’re alone, and Alan is the only person they see all day.

“Wellness check is one of the big things,” says Alan. “You do make a considered effort to find out if there’s anything that they need: if the electricity is out, if the phone’s not working.”

After all that time together, Alan has become quite close with each person he visits. Alan will visit his customers when they are in long-term care or rehab facilities, and, when they pass away, he attends their funerals to pay his respects. “Now they’re like family.”

You can make a difference as a Meals on Wheels driver, too!

Join Alan and dozens of others who volunteer as Meals on Wheels drivers in their own towns and communities. To become a volunteer driver or to learn more, call 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259. You can also email us to request more information or apply online.