I went to a wide variety of sites and met all sorts of different people. Let me tell you about my first stop in the town of Lanesborough.
I went to a kitchen that is part of Elder Services of Berkshire County. It received $114K in stimulus funding which Elder Services executive director Bob Dean told me was “a lifesaver.” The kitchen is responsible for creating and delivering 1,000 meals a day, mostly to the homes of seniors throughout the county. The way it goes about this enormous task is a marvel of organization, engineering and a dedicated group of workers and volunteers who love what they do.
When I first came to the kitchen – which is tucked behind a nondescript shopping center – it was pulsing with activity. There was an assembly line of men and ladies – some of whom were fairly senior – creating the meals, packaging them and then methodically handing them off to the delivery people who waited patiently in line to get their packages. But don’t let the patience fool you – there was a fair amount of joking around and gentle teasing on that line creating a jovial, almost party-like atmosphere in the room amongst people who have clearly been working together for a long while and like what they do. (I even donned an apron and cap and took a turn on the assembly line!)
Some of the delivery people, like Joseph Maison, who has been doing this for 3 years, deliver to a senior center. But most go house to house delivering meals individually to seniors, for many of whom, Bob told me, this is their only personal contact of the day.
These visits provide the seniors with a meal and apparently a lot more. Bob told me that the drivers also do a “wellness check” and will follow up with case managers if it is warranted. “For some people this is what they need to be able to stay in their homes,” Bob told me. “The overwhelming preference of most seniors is to stay in their homes.”
This was demonstrated to me most powerfully when I spoke to Pauline Daury, a 74-year old woman who has been delivering these meals for the last 20 years. She told me the work keeps her young and she didn’t seem to think it was impressive when she added that when she delivers her meals she always does extra things like emptying out garbage cans, putting in new batteries for hearing aids or mailing letters. “A lot of them can’t get out,” she said simply, by way of explanation.
After talking to Pauline, I thought of something Bob had told me. “When things work well you don’t see how well they’re working. You don’t realize that a program like this is as effective as it is.”
A program like this that ensures that 1,000 seniors a day not only get a nourishing meal every day but which also supports their living independently is the kind of program that needs our support. The recession nearly knocked the wind out of this program — Bob told me it relies on a combination of grants, United Way and other organizations, all of which were stretched to their funding limits — and thanks to stimulus it can continue to help the seniors of Berkshire County.
As I left the kitchen all I could think was, this is what stimulus is all about. Creating jobs, putting people to work and helping people get through this recession.