Rachel Reed has lived in Del Mar for more than 50 years. For 33 of those years, she’s been a volunteer with Meals on Wheels, the nonprofit organization that delivers meals to the homes of the housebound. At 92, Reed stopped driving and no longer did meal deliveries. Now, at 100 years old, she’s found another way to deliver joy to her clients.
Although Reed can no longer physically visit her clients, she stays connected by making birthday cards for them. She makes the customized cards through a computer program called Greeting Card Factory. She can choose the images she wishes to use and then customize the messages to include the person’s name and “Meals on Wheels” somewhere in the message. Reed makes anywhere from 12 to 20 cards a month. Other volunteers deliver the cards along with the meals. “I would like to stay healthy and with it enough to keep on doing it for as long as possible,” she says. “And it also keeps me involved with some of the other volunteers that I’ve gotten to know.”
When asked why she keeps volunteering at all, Reed laughs and says, “Because I can. I can’t be of service to the community because of my ancient age and a few disabilities. But this is something I can do that helps to keep people happy and going on with their lives.”
Reed started volunteering with Meals on Wheels (MOW) in 1986, just after she retired. She heard an ad on the radio and was instantly interested. One of the best things for her was making fast friends with other volunteers. In fact, her ride-along partner, Nora, became her best friend, and she still goes out once a month with a group of Meals on Wheels volunteers. The other part she’s enjoyed about her volunteering is exploring new neighborhoods. “You see parts of the various towns that you would not otherwise see because you go by byways rather than highways. You get to see different types of houses and their landscapes and gardens, and you meet some very interesting and accomplished people and some strange and funny ones, too,” she giggles.
Strange and funny, indeed. Reed remembers the time she was delivering meals with her son, David. “He preceded me and got to the door first and was met at the door by a naked woman! He ran back to the car,” she says.
It’s evident throughout her conversation with this reporter that Reed enjoys a good laugh and definitely hasn’t lost her 100-year-old sense of humor. She went on to talk about another longtime MOW client called The Colonel. “He was an old gent who had been one of the Keystone Kops,” she recalls. “He had given himself the title Colonel. I’m not sure he had ever been in the Army, but he may have been. He had a basement just full of all kinds of memorabilia that he’d collected from the cinema world. And he had I don’t know how many sets of dominoes that he played Army with. He’d line the dominoes up like soldiers in different formations. The Colonel was also a sort of a handyman, and he had carved a screw about two feet tall out of wood. He painted it gold and underneath it he had a sign that said, ‘Screw the Golden Years.’”
One thing Reed has noticed throughout her decades of volunteering is that the stigma of neediness has lessened among those on the receiving end of Meals on Wheels. “In the beginning, a lot of people didn’t like to have it known they’re dependent,” she recalls. “But Meals on Wheels has become more prominent through the years, and now there doesn’t seem to be such a stigma attached to being looked after or taken care of. Now people are focused more on being independent and being able to stay in their own home.”
Reed admits that through the years, some visits have been bittersweet. “There are some people who have nobody else. Perhaps their children live in Iowa or some place. And they’re just so happy to have someone come and visit them.”
Reed understands the benefits of volunteering are manifold. “Well, it pays you back. Because no matter how much you give, there’s always a reward. And it just makes me feel good that I can do it, that I have some sort of talent that brightens the lives of other people, especially older people because there’s such a tendency toward depression as people grow older. I feel like I’m doing something that gives me pleasure to do but it brightens the lives of other people. You’re dealing with people who appreciate what you’re doing for them and they have no idea what they’re doing for you.”
To become a volunteer for Meals on Wheels, go to www.meals-on-wheels.org. It is also possible to support San Diego seniors at the Meals on Wheels “San Diego County’s Viva Seniors Gala” on June 8. For details, go to www.meals-on-wheels.org/gala.