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Broken Sidewalks

 by Alison Bossert

It’s been a year since I began volunteering for Culver Palms Meals on Wheels (CPMOW) in Culver City, CA . The mission of CPMOW is to enable our clients to stay in their own home and remain independent through the delivery of well balanced, nutritious meals to their door.

After the layoff, I knew I wanted to give some of my time volunteering for a good cause. My parents had volunteered for Meals on Wheels in their town, delivering hot meals to many people younger than themselves. I checked around and found the closest chapter here in Southern California.

Meals on Wheels originated in the UK during the Blitz of WW2. According to Wikipedia, volunteers prepared food and delivered it to homebound people. They used old prams to transport the meals. The service took off during the 1950s and 1960s throughout the UK, Australia, the US and Canada. Today in America, 1 in 9 seniors — an astonishing 5 million people — are at risk of hunger. Here on the Westside of Los Angeles, there are hundreds of people unable to shop, cook or prepare meals due to illness or age.

I remember my first day packing food and learning the ropes. The hot and cold bags for the 9 delivery routes are laid out on tables. Each route has a book with the names of our clients on separate pages showing their age, special food needs, and directions to their home. As I flipped through the book, their birthdates jumped off the pages of history…one man, born in 1915 during WW1, several during the Roaring 20s and many during the Great Depression. They are of the Greatest Generation (1901-1924) and the Silent Generation (1925-1945). They’ve lived through so much and helped build our country into what it is today.

Volunteers deliver one hot meal and one cold snack to an average of 90 clients a day, Monday through Friday — over 20,000 meals a year. There are so many wonderful people who volunteer and work there. Pam, the Executive Director, always has a smile on her face and has so much energy and excitement for her job and the organization. She’d make millions if she could bottle and sell that enthusiasm!

I took on Route #7 early on and look out for my clients to make sure they are doing okay. Every Monday, I pack and deliver food for 8-10 people. I usually thumb through the book first to check for any new clients. Many homes I drive through in the Venice, Mar Vista and Marina del Rey neighborhoods have become gentrified over the last 15 years. Generally when there is a new client and I turn down their street, it’s not difficult to find their home.

Between the new builds and renovated homes you’ll find the house with the broken sidewalks, overgrown grass, and old paint chipping from the shutters and walls. Mark, a client I’ve never actually met, lives in one of those homes. He lives on a pretty tree lined street on a hill in Mar Vista. Across from him is a newly built McMansion that looks like it belongs on Nantucket Island. His home is surrounded by pretty homes with manicured lawns. When I first drove up to his house, the grass was knee high with an old garden hose stuck in the dirt. I’ve never met Mark because he is bedridden. I usually leave the food hanging from the doorknob or once in a while hand it to a nurse.

I often wonder if the neighbors are upset at the eye sore, yet don’t know Mark’s name or even his situation. Wouldn’t it be great if the neighborhood got together and cleaned up his yard? We live in a self-absorbed world rarely looking up from our devices to see our community around us. Our social networking has made us anti-social human beings.

Margie, 91, lives alone in the house she bought with her friend back in the 1960s. Her friend died 15 years ago. The outside of the house is kept up by a gardener and the pool (she doesn’t use) is also maintained. Inside though, it’s a different story. While she’s not a hoarder, there are papers piled up on every surface. She is depressed and feels overwhelmed. Every time I visit, I try to be upbeat, but many times Margie is down in the dumps. She doesn’t have any family except for an 85 year old cousin who lives over an hour away and doesn’t drive. Last week she mentioned that she hadn’t paid her taxes in over 3 years. I said I’d try to find someone for her. It’s not easy to find a tax volunteer who makes house calls. For many people, the volunteers are the only interaction they have with another human being for an entire day. And that interaction may only be for 5 minutes.

Once, when I delivered food to Margie, she said she was so happy for Mondays and having food delivered. I told her that she could order extra food to be delivered on Thursday’s and Friday’s so that she would have food for the weekend. It was added to her delivery schedule that week. I wondered how long she had been going without food on the weekends. It’s so important for volunteers to ask.

Joe, a man in his late 60s, lives down the street from me in a small studio apartment. He began Meals on Wheels a few weeks ago. When I dropped his food off for the first time he met me outside and said he was just trying to keep food down — his cancer treatments were making it hard for him to eat. Joe stayed on the program for about a month. Happily I saw him recently riding his bicycle with two small bags of groceries hanging from the handlebars.

Most of our clients were born before TV was invented…most do not know how to use a computer or even own one. Their technology consists of cable TV and a landline. They are isolated from a world which has everything at its fingertips. Think about how easy it is for us when we need something: you need anything you order it from Amazon, you want food delivered, you click online read the menu and order, need to go somewhere you Uber. Think about living without a smartphone, tablet or laptop (I know a nightmare for most!) and then throw in the fact you can’t drive any longer. You’re trapped.

Take a moment to look up from whatever device you’re reading this on and think about your neighborhood. Where are the broken sidewalks? Which house is overgrown and where you rarely, if ever, see the owner? Is there a newspaper lying at the end of their driveway or garbage cans that haven’t been put away? Ask who lives there and find out if they need help. The folks in the Greatest Generation and Silent Generation rarely ask for help. They are stoic, quiet and proud.

Culver Palms Meals on Wheels is a non-profit, non-sectarian, volunteer community based 501(c)3 organization that has been serving the homebound in Culver City and surrounding communities since 1974. It relies on donations and grants to keep up its good work. If you can, please help CPMOW by making a donation.