Christmas kindness: Dover volunteers deliver meals to elders

Bob Naylor and Ruth Ann Fretz, both volunteers, organize food as they prepare to go out for their deliveries. Delaware State News/Noah Zucker

DOVER — Most Delawareans don’t work on Christmas morning, but in Dover a select group of volunteers got up early on Friday to deliver meals to elders in need.

“I believe I have about 30 volunteers coming in,” said Trudie Clay, who has been the coordinator of the Modern Maturity Center’s Meals on Wheels program for nine years. “We are feeding 400.”

She said that on a normal day, the program would feed around 800 people between the ages of 50 and 98. That number shrinks on Christmas because many regular recipients eat with their families at holiday celebrations.

“Most of our volunteers are seniors,” Ms. Clay said. “Their children might be somewhere else, so they’re good with coming in.”
One of those senior volunteers is Robert Coltrain, who helps deliver food every day.

“I came over here two years ago this past September,” he said.

That’s when Ms. Coltrain told Ms. Clay he would be there every single day.

“If you need me, fine. If you don’t need me, I’ll go home,” he said. “I’ve called out three days in two years.”

Mr. Coltrain said his participation in Meals on Wheels has helped him structure his time and keep social ties to the community in his retired life.

Robert Coltraine, a volunteer, hands off food to Jessica Baranowski, who was collecting it for her mother Arlene. Robert Coltraine, a volunteer, hands off food to Jessica Baranowski, who was collecting it for her mother Arlene.

“I love all these guys. We all have a good time,” he said. “We talk to each other. Joke with each other.”

Bob Naylor is another regular volunteer.

“I do it a couple of days a week,” he said. “I’m scheduled for every Monday and Tuesday, and if Trudie needs help Thursday or Friday and I’m not doing anything, I’ll come in.”

He said it usually takes each volunteer between two and three hours to drop off meals to everyone on their respective routes.
Mr. Naylor said the volunteers take ample COVID precautions.

“You’ve got to wash your hands and always have your mask on,” he said.

Additionally, Mr. Naylor said volunteers must deliver food in front of or hanging on people’s doors rather than handing it to recipients directly.

But minimizing the possibility of physical contact doesn’t mean they’ve taken away the social contact the Meals on Wheels program provides many isolated elders.

“If when I walk away, they’re smiling and laughing,” Mr. Coltrain said, “I’ve done my job.”

Some people have been delivering food with Meals on Wheels for decades.

Robert Coltraine prepares to deliver his first meal of the day.

Bettylou Bargo, the oldest volunteer present on Friday morning, began delivering meals before the MMC even existed.

“My husband and I started in 1971 when we came back from overseas,” she said. Her husband Rob was a pilot in the Air Force stationed in Germany.

“We delivered from Smyrna to Harrington” in those days, Mr. Bargo said. “There weren’t as many as there are now.”

She believes the program has grown because “people are living longer, like myself.”

Ms. Bargo got her daughters Sharon and Susan involved and today, the sisters still bring their mother along. She doesn’t drive or deliver meals to the door anymore, though. Her job is to hand out treats to the dogs they encounter on the route.

For some volunteers, the holiday was essentially an afterthought.

“Christmas, to me, is no different than any other day,” said Mr. Coltrain, who donned a festive red and green hat with bells.
“The only reason I’m here is because there are people that need meals today and I’m here to get it to them.”

Ms. Clay said the Meals on Wheels program embodies the Christmas spirit.

“It’s giving back. This is what the Christmas spirit is about,” she said. “It’s just joyful to help someone else, to give them a warm meal and a merry Christmas.”