Every Tuesday and Friday, Anne Aitchison pulls up to Meals on Wheels Durham, loads up her white hatchback Volkswagen with warm meals, a stack of Herald-Sun newspapers and an occasional can of pet food. Then she heads out on her route.
“Good morning, Ms. Moser!” calls Aitchison, clutching a bag of food and a Valentine in one hand, knocking with the other.
“It’s Meals on Wheels!” She lets herself in.
The nonprofit agency, located at 2522 Ross Road, relies on volunteers to deliver warm meals to local seniors five days a week.
“We always need more volunteers,” said Gale Adland, executive director. She explains that while they are fully staffed to run their program, raising public awareness and getting volunteers can be a challenge.
DurhamCares wants to be a part of that.
For more than seven years DurhamCares has served as a community mobilizer, connecting the people and churches of Durham to service and development opportunities based on the issues about which they are passionate.
Part of their function is informing the community about why certain issues are important, says Elizabeth Poindexter, marketing coordinator. They want volunteers to see how their acts of service can impact a larger issue.
January marked the start of the senior care campaign. DurhamCares partnered with A Helping Hand, Durham Center for Senior Life, Senior PharmAssist and MOW Durham. Each of the nonprofits set new volunteer goals individually, and in all, 70 new volunteers signed up to invest in community seniors.
“We’re trying to illustrate the costs of people in Durham not being mobilized and caring for our seniors,” says Poindexter.
Seniors make up 10 percent of Durham’s population. Almost half are living alone or in isolation, at a large cost to seniors. Seniors living in isolation spend more time in the emergency room and at doctors’ offices, are more likely to struggle with depression and are very limited in their activities. These problems will only grow, explains Adland, as the population of seniors in Durham will increase by 40 to 50 percent in the next five to ten years as baby boomers age.
DurhamCares believes that this great cost is not only being paid by isolated seniors. The community as a whole is footing the bill for the lost history, knowledge and life experience that Durham seniors have to offer. Adland also remarks on the mutually beneficial relationships that are formed between clients and volunteers, specifically her “active senior” volunteers, like Aitchison.
Creating a culture of caring
“We love doing it,” agrees Aitchison, who prefers the term “young seniors” instead. She rocks back on her heels, looking up, counting the 19 years since she began her Tuesday route in East Durham.
“I liked the clients and I stayed. You care about them,” she says, taking a hand off the wheel and placing it over her heart. She calls them “my clients.”
“That’s my buddy,” said Margaret Moser softly of Aitchison. The two women chatted about her latest bookmobile find. All of the volunteers, says Moser, are very nice. She sees Aitchison on her Friday route.
With the meals comes a sense of safety. More than 97 percent of MOW Durham clients reported feeling safer knowing that someone would visit their home every weekday, says Adland.
Daisy Stephens, who has lived in Durham since 1947, appreciates the food.
“They keep me from cooking,” she says before bursting into warm laughter.
MOW Durham cares for the nutritional needs of seniors, but as Aitchison expresses, they are limited in their capacity to provide companionship.
“We each do individually things that impact senior citizens,” Adland says of the other senior care organizations that are partners of DurhamCares. “We’re all trying to solve pieces of the same puzzle.”
DurhamCares focuses on nine key issues: affordable housing, disconnected youth, education, healthcare, homelessness, refugees, senior care, substance abuse and workforce development. Recently, says Poindexter, DurhamCares has tackled issues on a quarterly rotation. The senior care campaign is set to end in April.
“It’s been phenomenal. They’ve been so gracious with their time,” says Adland.
DurhamCares hopes to create a culture in which neighbors love and serve one another, like the Good Samaritan, without realizing that they are volunteering. Poindexter says that they hope to come alongside existing church programs in Northeast Central Durham, while helping other churches to realize the importance of community involvement.
“We essentially put ourselves out of a job when people in Durham see one another as valuable. Everyone is valuable in our community.”
Meals on Wheels Durham relies on volunteers for driving, packing, administrative support, special events & various other roles. For more information on how you or your group can get involved, please visit the MOW Durham website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 919-667-9424.
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