Volunteer Update: My reflections so far as a Bellingham “Meals on Wheels” delivery driver

Remember my commitment to volunteer more in 2023?

One month down… So far so good.

Beginning two Thursdays ago, and for the next two Thursdays, I have a Meals on Wheels delivery route of 21 households in downtown Bellingham, Fairhaven, Happy Valley and Samish.

Here’s my 3-hour, roughly 22-mile route:


The entire experience, beginning with connecting with the folks at the Bellingham Senior Activity Center where the meals are prepped, packed, and loaded, has been so enjoyable, and incredibly humbling.

In the orientation I met some of the very-few-paid and mostly-volunteer staff at the Senior Center, and I am here to announce that THESE ARE MY PEOPLE!

I’m talking about enthusiastic, life-loving, “I’d rather be doing something than sitting around”, “I’d rather be with people than home alone”, “I fill my tank by giving to others”-minded, good-hearted folks!

I love the energy, I love the mission, and I’m honored to have been introduced to it and become a small part of it.

The “meals” part of the program are assembled and cold-stored in the basement level of the Senior Center, and then organized into shopping bags by an in-house team, per the menus that the recipients have filled out.

Those bags are loaded into boxes, which are then loaded into my car around 9:30 a.m.


Then, with a clipboard of names and addresses all beautifully organized and in order, I hit the road.

The couple whose route I’m covering have been delivering to this area every week for the past 10 years.

They left me with notes about each and every recipient, including things like:

  • How loud to knock and how long to wait, because they’re slow getting to the door.
  • What type of dog or cat treat to have ready because their pet knows that on Thursday morning the “nice person with treats” will be knocking at such-and-such a time.
  • Exactly how to place the food bag on the walker that is left just outside a specific front door.
  • That so-and-so will need me to carry the bag into their kitchen, but first they’ll protest out of politeness.
  • And more like that, notes on almost everyone.

During new-driver orientation we were told that we might be the only face to face interaction the recipient has that entire week.

We were told to do our best to be the “eyes and ears” for a concerning change in condition, a rapid decline in health, or evidence of heightened distress.

If we notice something, we should call our contact at the Senior Center and fill her in, and she’d take it from there.

So far, my experience after two weeks is only that the general sweetness and gratitude expressed over handing someone a bag of food has made me want to give these people a big hug.

Meeting these folks, most of whom live alone and are obviously at a point of struggling to take care of themselves (or they wouldn’t need the service), has been for me a return to the feelings of visiting my dad in his final years.

We were blessed to have in-home care for him, for the most part, so he never needed Meals on Wheels.

But his spirit during that time is very much reflected in the meal recipients I meet on this drive about town, and I find that I welcome the connection.

I’ll make the deliveries again tomorrow morning, and I’ve been looking forward to it for days.

I have other volunteer interests that I plan to try over the months ahead, including Habitat for Humanity, and helping at the severe weather shelter for the homeless.

I’d also like to adopt a section of road or trail and try my best to keep it free of trash.

*Shout out to my friend Glenn Biernacki, for leading that charge!

I will stay on the call list for Meals on Wheels and do the occasional substitute route to cover for someone.

Because when I unload those empty boxes back at the Senior Center and return to my normal work day, my tank is way more full than when I began.