The Meals on Wheels program sponsored by the Visiting Nurses Association provides more than healthy meals, they are helping form friendships. Volunteers, Judy and Joe Burleson have been volunteering for the last five years, enjoying the chance to help their community members, and to visit those who they now consider good friends.
Joe and Judy Burleson are both retired teachers living in Sylvan Manor in Valparaiso. He was a teacher in the River Forest Community School Corporation and she taught in Valparaiso Community Schools before retiring in 2003. It was at a luncheon for former teachers where she met a man who was a Meals on Wheels volunteer.
“He told us the VNA was looking for more volunteers so I called and signed us up,” Judy explained.
When they first began they were delivering meals to 20 different locations twice a week. The 20-meal route took them to the apartments in Jamestown, Williamsburg on the Lake, and The Masters, and even to a lady living in a house past U.S. 49.
“When we had to deliver to her and the other 15 or so, it took us about an hour to reach everyone,” she said.
That is just driving time though. They didn’t always account for the times stopping and talking with the residents they were getting to know pretty well.
“There was a couple, not on our route now, but on it originally, who we got to know really well,” Judy explained. “We took them out to eat once and they keep telling us we need to go out again.”
Within the last two years, the routes were changed for all the volunteers to make them more efficient, since some routes were overlapping in the same apartment buildings, Judy explained. Plus, the stacks of meals they were picking up from Pines Village would not fit all into one bag.
Now, the Burlesons deliver six meals, mostly to people living in Jamestown, still twice a week. Yet, those friendships they made are still strong.
“Sometimes we stop and visit them,” Judy added. “They don’t have any friends or family in the area, so we are the only people they visit with.”
The volunteers delivering meals to the doors of those who are no longer able to drive or get out often rely on these visits. They are the social interactions, even if just short talks, that they no longer get on a day-to-day basis.
“I enjoy getting to know the people and we have known everyone for several years now,” she said. “They seem to look forward to us coming and we enjoy visiting them. Sometimes, we are the only people they see during the week.”
The Burlesons are planning to stay Meals on Wheels volunteers for as long as they can and plan on staying on their route every week. However, there are some weeks they must take off for traveling. The Burlesons have traveled to almost 20 European cities, and many places in the U.S. Judy’s favorite trip was through Wales and Scotland, where they were led by a wonderful guide, she said. The most interesting trip, due to the food and their customs, she said, was China, where they walked along the Great Wall of China.
The recent trip though was just around the Midwest to visit their three children, where one lives in Indianapolis and two live in Tennessee. This summer they plan on tending to a big back yard where they grow vegetables and plants in a large garden.
It is the ability to deliver fresh, healthy meals that encourages Judy to continue to volunteer with Meals on Wheels.
“A lot of people are not able to get out and or they have to rely on others, and just do not eat properly,” she said. “I know these programs help out in that way. It is just a good program.”
For more information on VNA and the Meals on Wheels program visit: www.vnanwi.org.