It was a cold and crisp, but sunny, morning Friday as Ruth and Mack Murphy, of Mehlville, made their rounds in Mehlville and Oakville neighborhoods delivering nourishment to homebound senior citizens who are part of the Mid East Area on Aging South County Senior Resource Center's "meals on wheels" program.
"It's a beautiful day," said Mack Murphy as he carried a plate lunch that included a hot sandwich, a serving of peas, au gratin potatoes, a small carton of milk and a fruit cup.
The nutritious meal wasn't a feast by any means, but it means a lot to the seniors who are unable to visit to the MEAAA center in Lemay for a hot meal in its large facility or who are unable get out to shop for groceries and cook for themselves.
The Murphys arrived at the MEAAA center at about 10 a.m., packed up a couple of insulated bags with the day's nourishment and hit the streets to make their deliveries, an every-Friday practice they have carried out for the past eight years.
At each stop they dig into the trunk of their car, assemble the items they need and walk to the front door to greet their regular "customers." Just as the Murphys get to know the homebound seniors they visit, the residents look forward to seeing them and the hot meals they deliver. The Murphys engage in some small talk with their clients, inquiring about their health, their families and chit chatting about one thing or another.
Occasionally, a homebound senior will ask one of the Murphy's for a "favor," such as moving a box, straightening out an item the senior may not be able to do, and, if time permits, they are happy to perform the small task.
Otherwise it's back in the car and onto the next stop. They work from a roster of "regular" homebound seniors who benefit from the hot meal program, and although there are 15-16 people on the delivery schedule, on any given day there may be several who are temporarily off the list because of hospitalization or any of a dozen reasons why delivery isn't needed that day.
It's one of the downsides of the volunteer effort, according to Ruth, who says it's hard not always knowing what happened to one of the seniors who have become their friends. Their "friend" may suddenly be placed in the hospital, at a nursing home or has passed away.
"We like seeing the people each day," Ruth said. "And sometimes, we don't have a chance to say goodbye," Ruth said.
Ruth is a retired teacher of remedial reading from the Mehlville School District and Mack is a retired civil service employee. They work as a team during their volunteer meal deliveries with Mack driving and he and Ruth alternating the deliveries to the door."
Ruth said she and Mack began volunteering after she saw an ad in the newspaper. She says it's been a way to remain active in the community to get out once a week, at least, for the meal deliveries.
"Sometimes I think our friends think we're really crazy, " she said. "But most of our friends are active in other things."
For Pam Guest, administrator of MEAAA's Senior Resource Center in Lemay, she's just happy to have the Murphys available to serve the seniors who rely on them.
"I wish I could clone them," she said. "We need people who are dependable and consistent, and they are."
"(Ruth and Mack) know their clients," Pam said, adding that the meal deliverers play a secondary role as providing another pair of eyes and ears into the life situations of the people they serve. She said they might spot a problem that calls for help and can often tell whether a senior is having health issues.
Just knocking on the door and making sure a client answers it is a valuable service. An unanswered doorbell could be an indication of a serious problem.
Delivery volunteers are often the only person the homebound sees. The volunteers take a few minutes to chat, make sure they are feeling well and not in need of medical/emergency attention. Volunteers are not permitted to run errands or take the client places but they will, however, open milk cartons, cut meat, and bring in the mail or newspaper, if needed. Volunteers report problems or concerns to the center administrator who then takes the appropriate action to assist the homebound client. In addition to a daily meal from a friendly visitor, homebound seniors receive educational information and have the opportunity to participate in health screenings and services. The center's homebound seniors also receive a card in remembrance of their birthday and special holiday surprises.
The important thing, says Guest, is that the home-delivered meals program allows seniors to live independently in their own homes.
For MEAAA, there are two factors in providing the home-delivered meals service. Th food preparation is handled by the same cooks who provide the food at the center itself And then there are those who make the deliveries.
Ruth and Mack Murphy spend an easy couple of hours every Friday when they attend to their appointed rounds. There are other volunteers, too, but the center always is in need of more volunteers in order to provide whatever assistance it can to seniors in Lemay, Mehlville and Oakville.
Those who are interested in volunteering to volunteer a few hours of their time each week to home-delivered meals program or other programs at the MEAAA Senior Resource Center, may call Pam Guest at 314-631-8698.
Mack and Ruth Murphy can attest that the volunteer assignment will do a world of good.