Two days before Valentine’s Day at 8:30 a.m., Bippin Sharma hopped out of his car, fetched two coolers full of Meals on Wheels food and nestled them in his trunk. It was one degree outside according to the car temperature gauge, and his wife, Seema, sat ready at the wheel for the two to head out on their South Burlington delivery route.
Sharma exchanged hellos with greeters at the Burlington Age Well hub, his glasses fogging up slightly from his frosty-weather-and-mask-combo. He took a bag of pink and red frosted cookies, baked by the Burlington Garden Club, to deliver to South Burlington clients.
A little love on this socially distanced, freezing Valentine’s Day.
The Sharmas began volunteering for Meals on Wheels with Age Well last September, as a way to help their community.
“We just wanted to make a difference during this time,” said Seema Sharma. “It’s a hard time for everyone.” Since she began working remotely, her schedule has become more flexible and enabled her to volunteer.
According to Laura Need, Meals on Wheels volunteer coordinator, Age Well welcomed a slew of volunteers when the COVID-19 pandemic started, some freed up from traditional schedules because of remote work, others looking for new volunteer opportunities because the places where they used to volunteer closed due to COVID-19.
Many young people have offered their help, she adds, recalling how some University of Vermont medical students joined the Meals on Wheels delivery team after their rotations were cancelled.
Need greeted the Sharmas and other Meals on Wheels drivers Friday morning wearing a sparkly red headband with wobbly heart antenna. The frigid air didn’t seem to chill her spirits as she waved hello, chatted with drivers and handed out Valentine’s Day cookies.
Meals on Wheels volunteers do more than deliver food to clients, she said — “They might be the only friendly face the client sees all day.”
Many clients don’t have family living close by and because of the pandemic, have stayed in relative isolation since last March, Need explained.
According to the Age Well 2020 Impact Report, about 26 percent of older Vermonters live alone, 71 percent of clients have a medical condition and 45 percent are unable to stand to prepare meals. Since the pandemic began, Meals on Wheels deliveries rose 22 percent and 95 percent of clients reported they had enough to eat because of the program.
“A lot of the time, this is their social interaction for the week, otherwise they can be very isolated,” Need said.
The Sharmas’ first stop on their route was in South Burlington’s Oak Creek Village. Bippin hopped out of the car and handed over a box of milk, an entrée and a heart-shaped cookie, exchanging greetings before hustling back to the warm car.
At the next house on their route, he was able to deliver while social distancing by dropping off the food in a floral tote bag attached to the front door.
It usually takes the couple about an hour and a half to deliver meals to 15 homes in South Burlington.
Sharma says he and his wife enjoy their Friday deliveries and are grateful for the opportunity to give a little something back.
Meals on Wheels can serve a person for an entire year for about the same cost as one day in a hospital or 10 days in a nursing home, according to the impact report.
The meals, which are different every day, hail from Lindley Food Services, a Rutland-based organization. Meals range from barbecue chicken to turkey and mashed potatoes. And of course, the occasional holiday cookie.
Need’s favorite dish is the ricotta pie. “I love the feeling that my occupation is more than a job,” she said. “While things can be stressful, at the end of the day I go home thinking, ‘I fed someone today.’ And nothing says ‘love’ like a good meal.”
While many volunteers joined Age Well in the pandemic, Need says they’re still in need of help and are always looking for kind souls to lend a hand.
All you need to volunteer is a license and access to a car. For more information visit agewellvt.org/giving-back/volunteer.