For many older Vermonters, Meals on Wheels is much more than just a meal.
Christine Baldwin, a long-time Age Well volunteer, knows this to be true.
“It’s also a connection,” she said. “Many don’t have families or have limited resources and are isolated…so my whole point is to not just to give them a meal, but to make them smile and make them laugh.”
As the largest provider of Meals on Wheels in Vermont, Age Well oversees more than 70 routes in Franklin, Grand Isle, Chittenden and Addison Counties – serving nearly 350,000 meals annually.
Baldwin started volunteering with Age Well in January 2021, when the nonprofit senior services agency needed extra hands during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been able to meet hundreds of people doing different routes in St. Albans and also in Winooski,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful experience to meet people and hear their amazing stories.”
Baldwin volunteers twice a week, one day as a route driver in Winooski and one day as the hub manager in St. Albans. In that role, she makes sure all the meal boxes are picked up by various other volunteers before she delivers between 9-12 meals herself.
Baldwin moved back to St. Albans in 2018 after a few years living in Boston. She said volunteering with Meals on Wheels has been her way of networking and getting to know the community.
“I’ve always been a believer in nonprofits and donating my time, so I thought this would be an interesting local approach to meeting people,” she said.
Baldwin describes herself as outgoing, so interacting with seniors while dropping off meals is a perfect fit. She loves stopping to talk with them.
“If they’re not having a good day, I always try to turn it around,” she said. “If I can make them smile or laugh, that’s the best thing in the world.
While making their rounds, Meals on Wheels volunteers also conduct important safety checks. Baldwin said this can be a more challenging aspect of the role, but she knows she is making an impact when she can connect a senior with a nutrition or case manager or get them emergency services when they need it.
According to Age Well, with 1 in 4 people facing food insecurity, Vermont tops the list of states that have seen a significant increase in both hunger and isolation since the pandemic.
Tracey Shamberger, Age Well’s director of business development and communications, said the organization is experiencing a significant increase in the number of individuals who need services, coupled with a decrease in funding and increase in meal costs.
“Meals on Wheels not only helps our aging neighbors thrive, but also relies on collaboration from our community partners, volunteers and businesses to meet the ever-growing need, ensuring that no older Vermonter is left behind,” she said.
“We could not accomplish all that we do without our dedicated volunteers like Christine who provide nutritious meals, friendly visits and safety checks that thousands of older Vermonters in our community rely on every day,” Shamberger said.
Written by: Bridget Higdon