I was born in 1939. I grew up in a small town. Tutwiler, Mississippi. Down there the white people controlled the black people. We couldn’t do no more than they told us to. If they wanted to, they would whip us. We just had to live there and work for two dollars a day picking cotton. There were things that happened that I really don’t want to talk about. But I don’t have any anger or animosity in my heart.
The only time us kids went to school was when it rained and the cotton was too wet to chop or pick. We didn’t have a school at the time, so we went to a church. Later on they built a school down there, but the white kids had to be on one side and the black kids on the other.
I had to run away. When I was nineteen years old my uncle came down to visit and I came back to St. Paul, Minnesota with him. The only thing I knew was cleaning people’s houses or cleaning up rooms in hospitals. I used to work at a Jewish nursing home off Snelling.
Eventually I went back to school. They have a school over here on Lexington and University, the Hubbs Center, for when people drop out of school and want to go back to finish. I went there and got my high school diploma. When I graduated I was sixty-one. I had an opportunity, so I went back. It felt wonderful.
I’ve been getting Meals on Wheels for about three years. That’s probably the best call I ever made. The food is good and everyone is just so wonderful. I just love seeing them ‘cause sometimes they’re the only one I see during the day. I always have to hug them. Oh my God, I’m so blessed with wonderful people.
It’s not hard to love everyone. Loving is concern about others. That’s what God wants us to do, love one another.
I’ve been volunteering at schools in the Longfellow neighborhood for thirteen years. I mainly help the teachers with their prep work. Then I’ll work with the kids. I like to work in the art class. They need a lot of help in schools. When I first started, twenty-one was a large class size. Now some classes are forty and it’s too much for the teachers. That’s why I continue on.
I go in every day. It’s kind of like an addiction. I get really nervous if I don’t feel good and I can’t go to school. But a lot of times I’ll go in even still. Snowstorms or whatever. I’d encourage anybody to do it.
One day the kids asked, ‘Dan, are you a teacher?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not a teacher.’ But the teacher said, ‘Dan, you ARE a teacher.’ I loved that. It made me feel good.
I heard about Meals on Wheels from somebody, I can’t remember when. I love it. It’s a supplement for me. I get my milk, my fruit, my protein, everything.
The volunteers are wonderful. They treat me with respect. We have little chats when they come. I know the girls and the guys. They’re very nice people.
Volunteerism is about love, that’s the way I figure it. It’s an important thing in life.”
I grew up in Italy and Brazil. I went to culinary school in France and I worked in hotels all my life. I like the creativity. I like different flavors and aromas.
I came to Minnesota in 1997. I opened two restaurants in Edina, Pasta Time and Two Guys from Italy. Do you know Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis? Their studio was a block from my restaurant. We used to cater to them almost every day. And the people who would come to record, like Foo Fighters. They introduced me to Janet Jackson and I cooked for her many times.
For the last fifteen years I’ve worked for Augustana Care. It’s a non-profit organization and it’s very involved in the community. So one of the things we did was talk to Meals on Wheels and we started serving meals.
We cook about 62,000 meals a year in this kitchen. We deliver five days a week. We for sure have the best Meals on Wheels program and the best food all-around besides New York. They have excellent food, too. We are very proud to do this service for people who are in need.
We have a different menu every day. We do all kinds of diets: gluten-free, diabetic, renal, ground, liquid. Whatever your needs are, we do it. It’s complicated sometimes, but I have great cooks and we have a group of dietitians
who approve my menus and tell me the proteins, carbs, etc. that are supposed to be in each meal. A lot of family members come and tell us the good job that we do.
A lot of people qualify for Meals on Wheels and it’s very easy. There’s a phone number on the website. They’ll tell you exactly the steps you have to take. They call us, they give us the address, then we cook and deliver.
What was it like for you coming here from Norway?
Anne-Lise: Not very good. I couldn’t speak any English. None of us could. So it was a hard time to start with. But we met people who spoke Norwegian and we found out the Norwegian groups. We went to the Norwegian church. It took a long time before I learned English because I always spoke Norwegian, even to the kids.
Bjorn: We came in 1959. We just wanted to have it a little better. I’m a house painter, so it was easy for me to get work. Came here one day and started work the next. He’s taken over now.
Tom (son, not pictured): I’m third generation, he took over from his father in Norway.
What does it mean to you that your parents receive Meals on Wheels?
Tom: I feel better because I know they’re eating. They’re getting food. I didn’t really have to worry because Mom is one heck of a cook. But now at least she doesn’t have to make meals all the time. So three times a week I feel better knowing that they are getting that for sure.
Bjorn: Everything is hunky-dory. They come to the door and ask me if I need anything and all kinds of questions about what I feel like. And that’s good.
Anne-Lise: It’s kinda nice to get somebody else to make my meals once in a while. So I enjoy that. It’s easier for me that way.
Bjorn: She’s the best cook in the world anyway.
I’m from Kiev, Ukraine. When I was two I lost my mother because she gave birth to my sister and died of sepsis. When I was sixteen, my father went to the army because of WWII and he never came back. So I became an orphan.
I graduated from high school with high scores. Medical school took six years.
I became an epidemiologist. I liked it because I could prevent something before it was too late. I was assigned to a number of families and I’d visit them at home. If one family member had a virus, I could educate them so that no one else got it. And if the same virus didn’t happen in the same family, I think I did my job well. It’s better than trying to treat a person who is already sick.
I left Ukraine because of anti-Semitism. People were pushed to leave the country. It wasn’t good for me or my family. Jewish people didn’t have a chance to grow. No future. I look Jewish, so they recognized me right away. There are still young people in Ukraine carrying torches against Jewish people. You can watch it on Russian television. Scary.
I was 67 when I came to the United States. I already had some relatives here who applied for me and my family to come. My daughter and son-in-law found jobs right away. It was a good feeling. Minnesota welcomed us. Nobody looked at us because we were Jewish, not in Minneapolis or St. Paul. They tolerate us, thank God.
Winter is coming and cold weather is coming. I think it’s important to wear proper clothes. People who go out with an open coat will get a cold easily. The immune system goes down and the bacteria in our body take over so people get sick. Garlic and onions are also very good to prevent colds.”
Zalman, recipient (via interpreter)
I made the jump into freelancing full-time about three years ago and one of the things that comes with that are pockets of free time. So I signed up to deliver Meals on Wheels one hour every other Thursday. They’re always super flexible and they cover me when I can’t do it. Every other week the same route, so I get to know all the people.
There’s one guy who doesn’t speak a word of English. In my head I call him ‘Mr. Twinkles’ because he’s so sparkly. He opens the door and sees me and he just lights up. He takes my hands and we have a whole conversation. I respond in English to what I imagine he might be saying and he responds in Bosnian to what he thinks I’m saying and we’ll have a three-minute back-and-forth. He’s always got a piece of candy for me that’s still a little warm from his pocket. I always look forward to it.
With everything online, the way we communicate with each other is often so digital and removed. We know each other through profile pictures and comments. So I think we need to take advantage of these opportunities to connect with other human beings. Yes, you’re giving them something. But it’s also such a beautiful thing to give to yourself.
It’s a very brief interaction, but you’re connecting with them. You’re looking in their eyes. You’re touching their hands. For some of them, that might be the only interaction they get all day. You get to come to them and interact for a moment and bring them food. It’s such a clear and direct way to care for someone.
I get so into my own head. I’m working on this or writing that. But every other week for an hour, my only task is to connect with a few people and hand them food. I’m so glad I do it.
Evelyn: I was really ill with bipolar disorder and back pain. I was a little bit confused and very depressed. I couldn’t manage my meals very well. So MHR, Inc. referred me to Meals on Wheels and they have been a really good help for me.
Russell: I’ve got a whole host of health problems and sometimes I can’t do much. So Evelyn told me about it and I contacted my caseworker and got involved with Meals on Wheels. It takes off a big burden because it’s the dishes and all the other stuff that needs to be done when you cook. So it really does help me in a major way.
And the volunteers are people that live in your community who are trying to make a difference. These are your friends and neighbors. They come and check on you. It’s good to see them and they’re genuinely concerned and just the nicest people. So that’s a big part of it. It’s not just the meal, it’s the people.
E: Russell and I met through a friend of ours. We became friends and he moved to this apartment building. We got really close and it’s been a nice relationship.
R: They had a vacancy across the hallway. It’s great. She’s got her space and I’ve got mine.
E: He’s a very good man. He’s very loving and caring and he worries a lot. If I’m gone somewhere, he’s already calling me saying, ‘Where are you?’ I like that about him. The only thing is when we started dating he said, ‘We’ll get married in a year.’ And it’s been thirteen.
R: Evelyn is always on my side. She’s loyal and she tries to make sure I’m okay. She helps me do what she can do, but both of us put together probably make half a person (laughs). But we do the best we can. We get along well. She’s always there for me. Unconditionally.
Most people think of the elderly when you say Meals on Wheels. That’s a misconception. They don’t realize that it could be for cancer patients. It could also be for the disabled. They’re not aware of the scope of what Meals on Wheels does.
My dream was to become a cook. I loved cooking, it was a gift. Mom couldn’t cook very well at all. Just beans and rice for us most of our lives.
I started out in grade school. They showed us how to make a hotdish, tuna casserole. I was watching closely how they were doing it, and I thought, ‘Wow.’ So I went home and I remembered all the ingredients and I made it.
I went through vocational school in St. Paul to get my certificate to cook, so my dream came true. I could cook American food as well as Spanish food. I didn’t measure, I just knew by taste and smell. You have to have an imagination.
I was a perfectionist when it came to serving the food. ‘Serve it like you wanna be served,’ that was my motto. And you want it colorful, that’s another thing. You’ve gotta be creative. That was my art. I enjoyed my job immensely.
Why did you get involved with Meals on Wheels?
I’m stable, but I have stage 3 cancer. I was stage 4 before and I was in hospice. I was near death. But I made it back home. I really couldn’t cook for myself, I was not good. I was sick and I wasn’t getting the nutrients I was supposed to be getting. So a nurse suggested I call.
I never thought I’d like Meals on Wheels to tell you the truth because my mother used to get it and people always complained about it. I have to say that they’ve really improved. It tastes pretty good, and I’m a good judge. You actually get the bone with the ribs, which is great. Now I’m getting the nutrition that I’m supposed to get.
The volunteers are wonderful, they’re really great people. We might chit-chat a little bit. If you see them smile, it makes your day, it really does. What they’re out to do is serve people like they want to be served.