The volunteers who take meals to Victoria’s elderly may not get a paycheck for their time.
Nevertheless, they certainly are rewarded generously.
“You get a lot of hugs,” said Nancy Engebretson, a 66-year-old Victoria resident and volunteer with Meals on Wheels Victoria.
Hurrying up the sidewalk Monday morning with a container of rice, beans, a tortilla, corn and a brownie in hand, Engebretson found a smile waiting for her at the front door.
“I’ve been missing you,” said the woman waiting for her, Irene Barefield, 81, of Victoria.
For Engebretson and the handful of volunteers who took to the streets Monday morning to deliver meals to Victoria seniors, the importance of their work was clear in the smiles, hugs and heartfelt thank-yous received.
Wednesday, community members across the nation are invited to participate in similar volunteer efforts as part of the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, which is also known simply as “9/11 Day.”
Started by the nonprofit also named 9/11 Day as early as 2002, the day of service was officially recognized through bipartisan legislation in 2009, according to the organization’s website.
One of the founders of that nonprofit was moved to establish the day by the death of his younger brother, a Manhattan attorney who was killed in the 9/11 attack.
“Our mission is to transform 9/11 from a day of tragedy into a day of service, unity and peace,” the website states.
But for some Victoria residents, the importance of volunteering was too much to limit to a single day.
With a little more than two dozen volunteers, Meals on Wheels Victoria has so far avoided the need to refer meal recipients to a waiting list, said Executive Director Dan Williams-Capone.
Meals are also delivered in Victoria County by the Community Action Committee of Victoria, a representative said, although Meals on Wheels Victoria contains its efforts within the city.
But with the number of meals requested by Victoria seniors rapidly increasing in recent months, Williams-Capone said his organization needs more help.
More volunteers, he said, will allow for shorter, more manageable routes for volunteers and more time to visit with seniors.
After all, despite the organization’s name, food is not the only thing that is delivered.
“It’s really more than a meal,” said Williams-Capone. “It’s about combating social isolation and loneliness. For a lot of our clients, (the volunteers) are the only person they see all day.”
But Williams-Capone said he understood that not everyone can afford to take hours from their daily schedules to help.
Having more volunteers on hand, he said, is one way of making the demand easier on other volunteers.
For example, one volunteer currently finds time to deliver meals during the lunch hour, said Williams-Capone, who said he is willing to accommodate.
But most of all, Engebretson said it’s important to help community members simply because they need help.
Near the end of her route, Engebretson stopped to visit a woman whose problems could not be solved with a single meal.
Living on a fixed income can be difficult, said Guadalupe Gutierrez, a 76-year-old Victoria native. But what’s even harder is fixing a hurricane-damaged home with limited means and no insurance, she said.
“I’m doing the best I can,” she said.
Years after Hurricane Harvey damaged the roof, insulation and walls of her home, damage was still apparent inside.
Because the home is owned on paper in part by her daughter, whom she cannot reach, Gutierrez said she is still struggling to finish repairs there.
Although a Meals on Wheels Victoria volunteer has offered to pay for the insulation, Gutierrez said she still needs someone to install the material.
And with her daughter unreachable and much of her remaining family and friends deceased, she doesn’t know where to turn, she said.
For fellow Meals on Wheels delivery volunteer Scott Powell, a 67-year-old Victoria businessman who owns and runs Page Striping, finding time to regularly deliver meals is worthwhile.
That’s because the relationships formed on the routes are a priceless benefit, he said.
“You establish new relationships. That, to me, is it,” he said. “We don’t get paid for it, but we darned sure aren’t doing it for that.”