Meals on Wheels for Western New York volunteer Judy Marine’s warm greeting cut through the bone-chilling cold Wednesday as she went about her West Side delivery route.
The meals that were handed out with kind words and a gracious smile meant that the senior citizens and a blind person that day wouldn’t have to brave the gusty wind chills that made it feel like minus 13 degrees or navigate unshoveled sidewalks and poorly plowed roads.
“They need the help, and I enjoy it,” said Marine, a retired visiting nurse who lives in Amherst. “I do it because it’s very rewarding, not only for the people who get the meals, but for me, too.”
Marine, 75, has been a Meals on Wheels volunteer since January 1990. She began working Mondays through Fridays about two years ago, after her husband, Edward, passed away.
At each of the eight stops along her 4.7-mile route, Marine pulled her 2014 red Audi over and removed the hot and cold meals from the back of the car.
The warm meals contained a chicken cutlet with penne and tomato sauce, and a side of broccoli. The cold meals had two half-pints of low-fat milk; chicken salad, applesauce, green salad, apple juice, bread and a small piece of cake. A few homes also received cat or dog food.
“I really saw the need for providing nutritious meals in order to keep people in their homes when I was doing home nursing,” Marine said. “The people were often elderly, they couldn’t get out, maybe their families weren’t around, and there were safety issues.”
Marine was prepared for the arctic cold, which she said was the coldest day yet due to the wind. She was engulfed in a long insulated jacket, scarf and gloves. Under that layer of clothing, she said, were long johns and thermal underwear.
“You have to be fairly agile,” Marine said as she stepped out of her car into a mound of snow by the side of the road.
Her first stop, Harriet Sciabarrasi on Baynes Street, said the visit was appreciated – especially in such difficult weather.
“I can hardly walk,” Sciabarrasi explained.
Marine climbed up 15 steps to Lisa Johnson’s second-floor apartment on Auburn Avenue.
After a warm exchange, Johnson said the free meals she has received for the last three years had been a big help.
“Being handicapped and blind, it’s great. It’s good, healthy food for people who are on a diet. And Pretty Lady – who I call my ‘seeing-eye cat’ – loves it,” Johnson said, referring to the bag of cat food she also received.
Felipe Garcia’s front door on Parkdale Avenue had a “Beware of Dog” sign and a picture of a hand holding a revolver, but both the man and the part-German shepherd who came to the door gave Marine a welcome reception.
“The people who choose to deliver the meal, they do it with a smile,” Garcia said, looking at Marine.
Garcia, 67, said he has overcome paralysis, but the loss of function in his hands caused a hand towel to catch fire while he was cooking oatmeal years ago, burning his back.
Since then, he has been afraid to use the stove.
“The public should be aware that there are people my age who are not able to provide their own meals, cook their own meals. I wonder how many people go to bed without eating because they are afraid of the stove?” Garcia said.
Outside the next home, Marine grabbed her hood while weathering a strong gust of wind before opening her hatch.
Fred Keller, 85, was waiting for her at the door – a typical sight, Marine said.
“I wouldn’t want to go out in this,” Keller told her.
Keller said he was grateful for Meals on Wheels. “They got me on a diabetes diet which I don’t have – I’m borderline –so I told the lady, I says, ‘Leave me on it, it’s probably better for me than the richness. It’s like the pudding and stuff doesn’t have the good taste, but I eat it anyway because it’s good for me,” Keller laughed.
The agency delivers an estimated 900,000 home-bound meals annually, and another 1,200 are distributed daily for Erie County Senior Services.
The program also ensures that people – many of whom live alone – will be regularly checked on by someone.
The meals aren’t left without prior arrangement, and if someone isn’t there when they’re expected, Marine said a social worker will follow up.
She once found an elderly woman naked and confused, although unharmed, in her bathtub.
That’s another reason why Marine said she values what she does.
“People enjoy seeing you, and it’s very helpful to the families and to the people themselves to know someone is going to account for them,” Marine said. “It makes you feel like you’re really doing something.”