Most of the time pointing ourselves in the right direction is at least partly an act of faith. Life doesn't hand us a compass, so we navigate our daily lives based on the people in them, our skills and experience, and our overarching values and goals. As time passes, we make shifts - sometimes slight bends in the road and sometimes 180 degree turns. It isn't often we get a flashing neon sign telling us we're right on track, but when it happens it's pretty special.
It happened to Andrea Folk. She served as an Air Force medical technician and a critical care nurse in Afghanistan. When she came back home in 2011, she needed purpose and healing. She was looking for a new opportunity to give back. Andrea discovered Meals on Wheels and started volunteering for VPAS by delivering hot meals to older, homebound adults.
Andrea says when she began volunteering, it was like this neon sign was flashing: You are exactly where you need to be. "I realized I’m not just delivering meals to strangers. I’m making a difference in the lives of homebound older neighbors by bringing them the nutrition and human contact they would not get without me," she said.
She also realized that the people she serves have their own stories, hopes and dreams. You only get this snapshot of who they are right now, but they’ve had rich, full lives. Some of them feel they don’t deserve the help, but they are all grateful for it. One neighbor lives alone, uses a walker, and struggles to get to the door when she brings his meal. When he answers it, he smiles broadly at Andrea and says “Thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming.”
It’s such a small gesture on her part but it means so much to him - and to all of the other older adults she visits. Andrea says, "I am the only person they may see that day, and just seeing my face is like a gift for them."
Another friend Andrea visits is 96 years old. She can tell she was spunky in her youth. She has health problems, but she gets up every day, gets dressed, and comes to the door when Andrea arrives with her meal. She always asks about her family, and then she thanks her just for taking the time to talk with her for a few minutes. When Andrea began to notice she needed more help, she let the VPAS staff know. Now this neighbor has a home health aide to provide personal care and keep her safe.
"I am that stop-gap," Andrea says. "When I notice something is wrong, I can help fix it."
Andrea Folk, Air Force Veteran and Meals on Wheels Volunteer
The older neighbors Andrea serves have such zest and a drive to live. They are a constant inspiration to her. And that’s why her story is such a happy one to share. Since Andrea returned home from her deployment, Meals on Wheels has been as much of a healing journey for her as it is for them.
Because of volunteers like Andrea and financial gifts from people like you, VPAS served more than 100,000 meals to isolated older adults last year. The population of seniors in Virginia is expected to nearly double by 2030, and demand for Meals on Wheels is rapidly increasing.
Hunger makes you sick. Food is medicine. You can deliver the cure. Please consider volunteering an hour or so of your time each week or offering to buy lunch for an older adult in our community. Together, we can navigate aging, improve the health and well-being of vulnerable neighbors, and live our very best lives.