Volunteers offer meals, companionship

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Carol Sorgen

Richard and Mary Joan Dryden have a weekly date. Every Friday morning Richard, 79, and Mary, 75, make the 36-mile drive from their home in Perry Hall to Meals on Wheels’ Central Kitchen in Highlandtown, where they pack up and deliver meals to homebound residents who look forward to both a nourishing meal and the chance for a brief visit with the couple.

 Now celebrating its 51st year, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland has been serving the homebound, regardless of their age, since 1960.

Through professional preparation and personal delivery of nutritious meals, Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers deliver more than 700,000 meals each year. All told, last year Meals on Wheels served 2,967 clients.

A broad service area

Meals on Wheels provides two nutritious meals a day, Monday through Friday, to individuals who are homebound in Baltimore City and Ann Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. They also serve limited areas in Frederick County.

Most food served by Meals on Wheels is prepared at the Central Kitchen at 515 S. Haven St., while kosher meals are prepared at Levindale Hebrew and Geriatric Center and Hospital. Kosher meals are delivered to limited routes located in northwest Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties.

The Drydens are two of Meals on Wheels’ more than 2,000 dedicated volunteers. Approximately 300 volunteers help out each day. Volunteers can pick up meals for delivery at several locations in the Baltimore area.

Mary Dryden began volunteering with the organization in 1979, after the death of her mother. “I was kind of lost,” she said. A friend of her mother’s, who was a Meals on Wheels volunteer herself, encouraged Mary to join her, and she’s been at it ever since.

Richard began volunteering in 2000 after his second retirement. His first was in 1991 after a 36-year career as a Baltimore County middle school English teacher, and the second after nine years supervising student teachers in Towson University’s Education Department.

Camaraderie also on the menu

The couple looks forward to their Friday mornings with other Meals on Wheels volunteers and with the people they visit.

“We love the camaraderie,” they say, as well as the relationships they build with the recipients of the meals. “They’re so happy when we come,” the Drydens said.

One gentleman even invited Mary to come back later with a six-pack of beer “and without my husband,” Mary laughed.

Richard has his own fans as well. One 103-year-old client asked Mary if she could give Richard a hug because it had been so long since she had hugged a man. “Be my guest, I told her!” said Mary.

“The folks are just darling,” said the Drydens, who plan to continue volunteering with Meals on Wheels as long as they can.

In addition to meal delivery, Meals on Wheels provides grocery shopping and “phone pal” programs for its clients, as well as providing referral to other support services when appropriate.

The agency assesses a fee for service based on a sliding scale that takes into account each client’s income and expenses. Staff works with each client to determine their specific fee. No one in need of the service is turned away due to an inability to pay.

According to Volunteer Recruitment and Retention Coordinator Ellen Falk, Meals on Wheels has never maintained a waiting list. “This is possible due to the generosity of our donors,” she said.

For more information or to volunteer, call toll-free 1-866-0827 or visit www.mealsonwheelsmd.org.