By Kathy Primer Krafve | Photos by Andrea Caldwell
There is one delivery day each week when Dorothea Roach, 92, does not receive Meals On Wheels. It’s the day she delivers meals to others.
One day each week Dorothea and delivery partner Joyce Kuehn pick up Dorothea’s meal as they pick up the other meals they will be delivering.
“I won’t let Dorothea get behind the wheel,” jokes Joyce who is retired and has been delivering meals for over six years.
“She does the driving and I do the dirty work,” responds Dorothea.
Meals on Wheels Ministry, Inc. provides good nutritious meals, daily contacts and other support services that enable senior citizens and disabled persons to remain independent and living in their own homes as long as possible, according to their website. With offices in Tyler, Meals on Wheels of East Texas extends regionally to Gregg, Henderson, Smith, Upshur, Van Zandt and Wood counties, delivering over 3,000 meals throughout East Texas.
The two women have a whole system for making sure each senior citizen on their route gets a complete, healthy meal and a hug or a word of encouragement along the way.
They begin by putting all the cold products, like cartons of milk, for example, in a special cardboard tray that Joyce created to perfectly fit her car’s console. Then, en route to the next house, Dorothea checks each bag of hot food and drops the appropriate cold items in at the last minute to ensure that each meal arrives with every item at perfect temperature.
“She is very protective of the milk,” Dorothea says.
“We try to keep it cold,” adds Joyce with a conspiratorial smile.
“I set the tray on my leg and its pretty hot,” chuckles Dorothea. “By the time we’re done, I have a hot leg.”
The bags are heavy, so Joyce is the one who runs them up to the door and says hello to each friend along the route.
“We do have a lot of fun,” Dorothea says.
“Dorothea and Joyce are such a powerful team,” says Meals on Wheels administrator-in-charge Nora Reyes, “They bring so much joy and sunshine to our clients, to the whole ministry.”
“It became necessary that she (Joyce) have a helper on her route,” jokes Dorothea, a gentle lady with stylishly clipped white hair, straight posture and an easy laugh.
The two friends credit the idea that Dorothea might enjoy a chance to volunteer again at this stage of life to Dorothea’s granddaughter Missy Roach Sumter.
Dorothea has logged countless volunteer hours over the years with organizations such as the Soroptimist Club, so volunteering with Meals on Wheels came naturally to this nonagenarian. Still, bragging on the accomplishments of her granddaughter never gets old.
“She is involved in so much stuff; I am so proud of Missy,” Dorothea says. “Missy is a wonderful lady.”
Dorothea and Joyce say one of their favorite things about being a delivery team is the fellowship with other volunteers. Meals on Wheels often feels like a party as teams arrive to begin their deliveries each day, the ladies explain.
“We get Starbucks; I think that’s really nice. We like the popcorn,” Dorothea says about the treats, donated by local sponsors and prepared each morning by MOW staff as a small thanks to dedicated volunteers.
Both women are amazed at all the things that volunteers do behind the scenes before food is delivered.
“Someone has volunteered to keep those shelves stocked,” Dorothea says about the way the food is already prepared, packaged and labeled when they arrive.
For Joyce, the fringe benefits of teaming up with Dorothea are too many to count, but she has one particular favorite.
“(Dorothea) is one prayer warrior. Ask her to pray and she can pray.”
When Dorothea is not delivering with Joyce, she looks forward to visits from fellow volunteers, such as Iris and Roger Daughtry, who bring her meal each Monday.
“She is an inspiration to us,” Iris says.
Iris and Roger heard about Meals on Wheels through a friend at church and have enjoyed volunteering together since retirement.
“We felt this would be a ministry. We’re doing it together; it’s fun,” Iris says. “It’s really fun to talk to each person. We enjoy their stories.”
“They brought me my first meal. We call one another, ‘our elders,’” laughs Dorothea.
Dorothea says she is incredibly grateful for all the opportunities she still has, especially to help others when she can.
“My sight is not very good and my hearing is worse. I hope I live another hundred years; I am an old woman, too,” she laughs.
Joyce agrees that they are committed to the process of nurturing with more than just food.
“We are going to stay on the road and sack lunches until we can’t anymore,” laughs Dorothea.
Their route will continue to take the two friends into the lives and hearts of all they meet along the way.