September 3, 2018

By: Mira Terdiman, Intern at Meals on Wheels San Francisco

At the beginning of this summer, I was sitting in my grandmother’s apartment in San Francisco with my family and our good friends. It was dinner time, and the excitement around the table was palpable. My grandmother was undoubtedly the best cook I knew, and everyone was looking forward to savoring her food.

My grandmother, Mamata Varma, moved from India to the United States when she was a young woman. Her whole adult life, she has been an avid sewer, potter, and chef. The recipes she made for my mother as a child are now my favorite food, and have been a central component in my family’s interactions and relationship with her.  

Cooking with my grandmother and simply enjoying her food is one of the best things I do with her. The joy on her face when I finish my plate or ask for seconds is immeasurable, and the activity of cooking and eating is something she can do easily, in her own home.

This particular night at dinner, I was thinking about how much joy a meal at home with family or friends can provide, and how this is something all people should be able to experience as much as possible. Everyone was laughing together, and using the meal as an opportunity to connect and relax. That is when the organization Meals on Wheels, which I had previously learned about through friends and adults in my community, popped into my head.

Meals on Wheels San Francisco is a non-profit that serves over 4,000 homebound seniors in every neighborhood of the city, providing 2 million meals a year. The majority of the clients live below the federal poverty line and without the support of friends and family, and with a projected 100,000 more seniors living in SF by 2037, the need for MOW services is crucial. However, as indicated in their mission, MOW is concerned with far more than meal delivery; their goal is to “nourish the whole person.” This means clients can work with both nutritionists and social workers at MOW, as well as interact and develop friendships with volunteers through the Good Neighbor program.

I was lucky enough to be given an interning position with the volunteer department for the month of August, and every day at work has been interesting and exciting. The good-heartedness and importance of the organization can be clearly seen in the attitude of the employees, who are always respectful, welcoming, and kind. Every day I am greeted with a warm “good morning,” and it barely took any time for me to feel fully at home in the office.

On Wednesday mornings, I take part in the Home Delivered Groceries program, which provides a selection of foods that seniors can cook and prepare in their own homes. My first Wednesday, I got to the office at 6:30 AM, still half asleep. However, watching the other volunteers’ enthusiasm and hard work inspired me and I began to pack over 600 hundred grocery bags to be delivered that day.

A couple hours later, I drove with another volunteer to an apartment building in the Tenderloin, where the majority of the occupants were clients of Meals on Wheels. Our mission was to hand two grocery bags to each client in their apartment, or wait while some seniors came down to retrieve them in the lobby. To be perfectly honest, getting sent up to the second floor alone with a cart full of grocery bags was nerve-racking. I had never met any of the seniors before, and I knew that the majority of them did not speak English. I was scared there would be a misunderstanding, I would do something wrong, or the clients would refuse to accept the groceries from me. As I called out “Good morning, Meals on Wheels delivery” after knocking on the first apartment door, my hands shook slightly.

A few seconds later, and elderly woman opened the door with a smile on her face. “Thank you,” she said quietly, accepting the grocery bags from my hand. She continued to smile at me, and I felt my fear wash away. This woman was kind and grateful, and I relaxed and was overjoyed that I could brighten her day, even if just for a little while. Her radiant smile reminded me of my own grandmother’s every time we ate dinner at her house, and my wish of providing the joy of food and cooking to someone was fulfilled and then some.