By Rachel Leidenfrost

Many people love the holidays. From making cookies and trimming the tree to finding that perfect gift and spending time with friends and family, the holidays can be a wonderful time to share with loved ones. And, truly, that togetherness is what makes the holidays – whether Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve or another celebration – special.

You see articles in the paper and hear stories on the news about families that don’t have the funds for presents and for a big, celebratory meal together. These stories are sad and it’s wonderful that the community reacts with donations and support.

However, what you don’t hear about are the people who are isolated and alone. Not only do they not have presents and a twinkling tree, they have nobody with whom to share the joy of the season. Many of these individuals are alone because they are homebound. They may have an illness or disability that prevents them from being able to drive or in many cases to even leave the house for tasks as simple as getting the mail.

Meals on Wheels for Western New York serves many of these homebound Western New Yorkers. We provide meals to more than 3,300 in-need clients each year, helping the frail and ill elderly or disabled enjoy the highest level of independence possible.

Almost as important as the meal is the companionship that comes from a few minutes of conversation with our caring volunteers. Each day, volunteers share their time with the homebound – seeing how the individuals are feeling, and just talking with them – about the weather, what they’re watching on TV, what they’re reading … anything that helps them feel connected to the wider world.

At the holidays, we also deliver a special holiday meal complete with pie. And many of our clients receive holiday cards and other tray favors made by area school children. These little things – conversation, pie, a holiday card – can make a tremendous impact on the homebound who receive them. But, during a season known for goodwill to men, the generosity of strangers and the fellowship of a community, I sometimes wonder if it’s enough.

As you celebrate your holidays, I encourage you to think about those in your community who may be alone – whether they are homebound or not – and to stop over for a cup of tea, a rousing carol or a delicious cookie. It is because of the people we interact with each day that the holidays are special.

My heart breaks for those who may not have friends or family to celebrate with, but I know that we can each play a role in making sure that every member of our community has new, warm memories of the holiday to smile on when the new year comes.

Rachel Leidenfrost is director of strategic communications of Meals on Wheels for Western New York.