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Towards the end of her life, Betsy’s Aunt Edie received meals from Citymeals on Wheels. Betsy saw how her aunt would light up with pleasure whenever a volunteer stopped by. “Much more than the actual food, she adored when they visited and engaged with her,” Betsy explains.
It was this experience that motivated Betsy to sign up to volunteer with her three sons: Laszlo, Elijah and Lenny. With her eldest contemplating college, Betsy wanted her sons to be exposed to the wider world — to unfamiliar neighborhoods and people in need.
So beginning in 2018, Betsy and her boys have volunteered preparing meals, packing shelf-stable food and delivering to the elderly. Betsy loves to watch the frail recipients brighten as they slowly open the door to see three smiling young men. “We’ve learned to identify with people on a very deep human level,” she reflects. “I’ve become a better person for it.”
We’ve learned to identify with people on a very deep human level.
Of course Covid-19 has complicated their routine. Now, the family arrives early at the meal center, washing hands, applying sanitizer and putting on gloves before having their temperatures taken and attaching a wrist band announcing they have been screened for the virus.
These steps are necessary to protect vulnerable meal recipients, and Betsy’s family doesn’t mind. It’s heart-wrenching, though, the fear and loneliness on the faces of elderly New Yorkers who before the pandemic were able to walk down the block for lunch at a senior center.
Betsy can see the isolation takes a toll. She understands that for many, she and her sons are the only people they will speak to all day.
But still, Betsy knows the deliveries are appreciated. She is quick to emphasize that the social interaction is just as vital for seniors as the meals. “Company and food are equally important to survival,” she points out. It’s a responsibility the family takes seriously.
Betsy is proud that volunteering has taught her boys how to navigate the city, talk politely with strangers and express compassion for their neighbors who have no one else to depend on. “The experience is just as valuable to us because we get to be a force for good at however small a level. We need each other.”