Volunteers look back at over 35 years of providing elderly with meals

For decades, two women have shared the responsibility of coordinating the Meals-on-Wheels at the St. Columba-by-the-Lake Presbyterian Church in Valois and earlier this summer, after nearly 40 years of service, they’ve decided it’s time to hand over the reigns.

Janet Hawke, left, volunteer Meals on Wheels kitchen co-coordinator, Lynda Barrett, centre, executive director of Volunteer West Island, and Georgia Drinkell, volunteer Meals on Wheels kitchen co-coordinator.

For Georgia Drinkell and Janet Hawke, co-coordinating the program that delivers meals to upwards of 24 seniors, twice a week, became more than a volunteer position.

“You really get attached to these people,” said Drinkell.

The Pointe-Claire resident started volunteering as a cook for the organization about 35 years ago.

“Someone asked if I would come cook and gave me the same spiel I give,” laughed Drinkell.

Hawke started out as a driver, then a dishwasher before co-coordinating with Drinkell for the last 25 years. What started as volunteer work grew into a way to support their neighbourhood.

“It’s rewarding to just be able to do something in the community. Perhaps some can stay in their home a little longer with the help of meals coming in,” said Hawke.

The meal delivery is also something that helps the families of the clients. “It’s a support that they’re glad to have because they know that someone is dropping in.”

Like the time Hawke’s husband, Earl, found a client who had been stuck in a room of her home for four days. The ambulance was called and the woman survived the ordeal, Drinkell recalled.

When the 1998 ice storm hit, the women of Meals-on-Wheels checked in with all the clients to make sure they were okay. “There was just one lady I worried about who did not want to leave her home,” Hawke remembered. She made sure the woman was safe and sound.

Hawke and Drinkell have each other’s backs, too. After Drinkell fell on a delivery, Hawke was there to pick up her work.

“We covered for each other,” said Drinkell. “That’s why we felt very strongly it should be two people.”

Getting to know the volunteers (there are usually about 60 at a time) has been another rewarding experience for the women. When possible they made a point of holding an annual luncheon so that all the workers can get to know one another, since usually there are two or three cooks working on a shift, one driver, one dishwasher and one delivery person.

“I think it’s the nicest group I ever worked with,” said Drinkell. “There can be problems when you’re working with a group where you come home with a headache, but nothing like that ever happened with us.”

The women have seen evolution in the community, technology and amount of volunteers over the years. Different dietary constraints have also surfaced in the past decades.

“Things have changed, and for maybe the better. It just becomes more complicated for the person doing the coordinating,” said Drinkell.

Both Drinkell and Hawke will continue to step in every few months, but only if needed. One of the challenges over the years has been to find volunteers, Hawke admits.

Sara King-Abadi, Special to the Montreal Gazette

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