The old guy in the white beard wearing a red suit gets all the attention at this time of year by showing up at houses in the middle of the night and bringing joy.
But Santa’s got nothing on Jack McQueen.
As a volunteer for the Home Delivered Meals Program, McQueen, 90, has been delivering hot meals and kinds words three times a week to homebound residents of Wilson and Ransomville for 27 years.
“He’s wonderful,” said Kara Donovan, coordinator of the program that is operated under auspices of the Niagara County Office for the Aging.
“While we have a lot of senior volunteers, he’s our oldest, and I do not believe we have had anyone else here that long,” she added. “He’s amazing.”
McQueen, a Hartland resident, donates about three hours of his time every Monday, Tuesday and Friday to take a hot meal – and often a cold meal, too – to about a dozen homes.
Donovan and McQueen both pointed to the program’s importance in offering personal contact that many of the more isolated clients would not otherwise enjoy.
“Some don’t have anybody, and this is their only chance to talk to anyone all day,” Donovan said. “The volunteers become their friends. They’ll sit and talk for a few minutes and make sure that they’re OK. And, we’re not only meeting their needs with the meals, and the interaction, but there is also a safety factor because this provides someone to check up on them. Our volunteers will call us if they find the client needs help, and then we’ll call the client’s emergency contact number.”
McQueen said this happened to him just last week when he delivered a meal to a woman he has been serving for a long time.
“I’ve been going there for quite a few years,” he said. “There was no answer when I knocked, and the door was unlocked so I went in and I couldn’t find her. I put her meal in the refrigerator and went across the road to talk to the neighbors. They said she had gone to the hospital. She needs to do that once in a while for breathing treatments.”
No stranger to driving, McQueen delivered mail by car on his rural route for the U.S. Post Office for nearly 30 years, retiring at age 62. But sitting around didn’t suit him and after two weeks, he found employment for another decade at the former Lockport Memorial Hospital as a stationary engineer.
“When I retired, back in the 1980s, there were square-dancing clubs all over, and my wife, Lillian, and I went to classes and met the supervisor for AT&T,” McQueen recalled. “He had also just retired and was delivering meals and was bugging me to join. So my wife and I went once, and we wanted to do it again. We started, and I never quit.”
His wife died 20 years ago, but that didn’t stop McQueen.
Don Dixon, a longtime friend, said it is not surprising that McQueen volunteers his time for the meals program. McQueen is a World War II veteran and a member of Post 1253, American Legion, Gasport, who is responsible for raising and lowering the flag at the post.
“He never says no to anyone,” Dixon said.
One of the regular clients on his meal delivery route is a 91-year-old Lewiston woman, widowed this June, who doesn’t drive anymore and whose children all live out of state.
“You don’t like to cook for just yourself,” she said. “I get my breakfast and lunch, but they bring me my dinner.
“I put my food in the refrigerator and put it in the microwave to heat up for dinner,” she said. “The meals are always good. They’re delicious.”
McQueen is one of 90 volunteers for the agency that serves 400 clients, Donovan said.
“We’d be nowhere without our volunteers,” she said. “We deliver Monday through Friday, and we offer a hot meal, which people usually use as their lunch, and a night meal – usually a sandwich, fruit and milk – but people can get both. We also deliver frozen meals for the weekend on Friday, so people can just heat them up.”
“We offer four different types of meals, one regular and three for those with special diets; diabetic, renal and modified sodium,” she added. “We supply these services without regard to va person’s income, but we have a suggested contribution of $3.”
Donovan said relatives will often call her office to enroll their loved ones, and she also gets referrals.
“From there, we do a phone screening,” she said. “Many of our clients are homebound due to illness or they are ages 60 or older and unable to prepare their own meals. Most receive our meals every day, but some only get them on certain days. We’re strict about maintaining the temperature of the food – our volunteers don’t just leave the food sitting outside [on the doorstep]. We’re not closed very often. We are closed Christmas and New Year’s Day, but during the holidays, many clients have families that visit them, anyway.”
McQueen has been a member of Hartland United Methodist Church for 57 years and the Johnson Creek Senior Citizens for more than two decades.
He said the 40-mile round-trip he makes three times a week as a volunteer doesn’t bother him.
“It’s just like delivering the mail – you get to know the roads,” the Hartland resident said with a laugh.
In fact, he recalled driving his own car to deliver the mail to up to 600 people daily on his mail route through Hartland and Royalton. He now drives a 1996 Olds Cutlass station wagon specifically for this volunteer work.
“I bought the car in 1997 with 28,000 miles on it, and I now have 192,000 miles on it,” he said. “I use it just to deliver the meals. I change the oil and do the maintenance when it’s supposed to be done, and I haven’t had one repair this year. I always keep it in the garage. I have a 2010 Buick Lucerne that I use for everything else.”
McQueen said he leaves his house at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Tuesday and Friday for the 15-minute trip to the Niagara County Fire Training Center in Lockport to pick up the meals.
He’s on the road again by 10:45 for his 40-mile round-trip.
Then it’s back to the training center to drop off the containers, and he’s back home by 1 p.m.
As for his holiday plans, McQueen said he will find himself in a familiar spot: behind the wheel of his car.
“My wife and I had five kids,” McQueen said. “One of my sons died a couple of years ago, and he lived next-door, but his wife and son still live there. I have a son in Lockport and one in Rochester and one in Ballston Spa near Saratoga Springs. My daughter lives in Fenwick, Ontario, near St. Catharines. I’m going to her house for Christmas. It’s only a one-hour and ten-minute drive.”