A Volunteer’s Story: When you give someone a meal, you receive a smile

A Volunteer’s Story: When you give someone a meal, you receive a smile

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Jane Dutcher arrives with a hot meal for Bev Gale, sharing a warm smile between them.

Meet Meals on Wheels Driver Jane Dutcher

On an early winter’s day, Jane Dutcher of Bernardston heads out to a Meals on Wheels volunteer driver pickup point to collect several electric thermal bags of hot, prepared meals and coolers filled with cold milk and bread. She packs up her car to deliver each meal to an elder on her route that winds through the main drags and back roads of Gill, Northfield, and Bernardston, sometimes dipping into the edges of Leyden and Greenfield.

Jane has been a volunteer with the Meals on Wheels program at LifePath for over 15 years. After raising four children with her husband and retiring from a career as a computer programmer, Jane got started with the encouragement of another volunteer driver. “I remarked in front of the wrong person that I had to find something to do,” she says, “that staying home and not having an occupation wasn’t my forte, and that person worked on me to volunteer to drive.”

Jane generally sees between eight and 23 people on her route. “The number goes up and down,” she says. “Some people are on because they had a surgery and they need the service until they get their strength back and are able to do things for themselves again. Some people are not ever going to get off that way. Some people leave because they go to a nursing home.”

These past 15 years, one constant in Jane’s weekly service has been the smiling face of Bev Gale of Bernardston. When Jane arrives at Bev’s house, Bev’s daughter opens the door to usher her in. Bev sees Jane, and the warmth of the connection between them fills the front room where Bev sits in her wheelchair. “I love her,” says Bev. “She’s so smart.”

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Jane hands Bev a meal that is still hot from the kitchen and a cold pack with bread and milk.

“She likes the lasagna, but she loves Jane,” Bev’s daughter chimes in. “It’s nice that mom gets a hot meal, and she has a friend. [Jane] brings a smile to her face.”

Bev, in her 80s now, says she was about 40 when she got the wheelchair. In time she also became involved with LifePath, so that when her home health aide could no longer be there for lunchtime, Bev was able to sign up to receive Meals on Wheels five days a week. Jane is her driver on two of those days.

“On the days that Jane comes,” says Bev’s daughter, “I know that I can go to Greenfield and not hurry, because [I] know that Jane’s going to come and bring Mom her meal and she will tell my dogs to be quiet, so I don’t worry. I can get down there and back and don’t rush.”

Many volunteer drivers find meaning in knowing that for many of the people on their route, the driver may be the only person they see that day – or even that week. Jane says she also finds “the fact that I’m not afraid of their dog or their cat means a lot to them.”

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Jane always takes a moment to check in with Bev, who looks forward to Jane’s visits each week.

Bev has three dogs. “Two chihuahuas,” she says, “Leroy and Winnie.” Emma, a good old girl, is a beagle and sheltie mix. Bev also fills her time with reading detective novels, browsing the internet, and putting puzzles together. “I’ll go for 500 [pieces]. But I’m thinking about a thousand.”

“We don’t do no more thousand-piece puzzles, do we?” says Bev’s daughter. “Sometimes we do.”

“Sometimes we put them back in the box!” says Bev.

The three women laugh together before Jane heads back out and onto her next stop.

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Jane arrives at Janet Ross’s house with a hot meal and some time to chat.

A light snow is falling as Jane pulls up to the house where Janet Ross lives. She knocks on the teal-colored door, calling out, “Meals on Wheels!”

Janet, in her 60s and wearing a big smile and a purple sweater adorned with snowflakes, opens the door with a warm welcome for Jane. A small, orange-and-white tabby cat sits perched up on a spiral staircase, watching the interaction from a distance.

Jane hands over the meal, which Janet places on her purple walker, and the two women walk into the window-filled dining room to sit down and talk for a bit.

“Every week she comes, knock, knock, knock, knock, ‘Meals on Wheels!’” says Janet. “[Jane] says it loud enough so I know who it is, and always to make sure I’m okay.”

Sitting in the home that belongs to her son, Janet shares that she and her husband have lived here for a few years. When her son invited his parents to move into the spare bedroom, Janet says, “It worked out perfectly, because my rent was going up at the time. My husband was already working seven days a week, and I said, ‘You know what? We don’t need this anymore.’”

After 40 years running their own printing business – “from beginning to end, from taking the order, designing it, typesetting it, making the plates and negatives, and my husband would put it on the press; then we would take it, jog it all down, make pads or whatever we had to do, business cards, box it, ship it out” – the couple sold the company and moved from the south coast of Rhode Island to Franklin County, Massachusetts.

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Inside the warm home and out of the lightly falling snow, Jane hands off the hot meal to Janet.

“My caseworker Therese from LifePath came over here,” says Janet, “and she said, according to my income, my age, my disability, that I was eligible for Meals on Wheels and a couple of other things, too. So I grabbed it.”

Janet enjoys the meals. “I’m very thankful because it’s always a balanced meal. I would not normally eat like that. Every day is a new, healthy meal.”

Even more so than the meals, Janet says she is impressed with how the drivers show their concern for her wellbeing. “With Jane and with all the people who deliver, they’re not just concerned about my health, that I fall down on the ground or something like that, [but] even my mental state, talking to me, ‘How’s everything going with you?’ She always drums up a story to make me talk back. I think she wants to see if I’m with it or not.”

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Janet and Jane share some conversation and laughter before Jane heads back out and on the road with her Meals on Wheels deliveries.

Living with family, Janet has others she can rely on, but she knows that not everyone has the same level of support. “My daughters call me every day. I have people to talk to. [Some] people have nobody to talk to. She goes in and that must mean the world to them, just having somebody to talk to, you know? I appreciate it.”

Personally, what she gets out of it as a volunteer, says Jane, is “just the pleasure of knowing that it helps.”

If you’d like to support the Meals on Wheels program at LifePath by giving your time as a volunteer, contact us at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259, or visit the Meals on Wheels page for more information.

Jessica Riel
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