By Nicole Bruce
Back in 2009, Robin Wolf, a CJE Home-Delivered Meals (HDM) volunteer, was videotaped exclaiming: “I love volunteering. I love meeting all the people that we deliver to. Sometimes we’re the only people they see on any given day, so a lot of people love to talk and open up about their lives and their life experiences.”
Not much has changed over the 18 years she’s been delivering meals together with friend Sheri Cooper—or since both women were interviewed for the Celebrate CJE annual fundraising event video 10 years ago.
Today, they’re still connecting with older adults in the community through weekly kosher meal deliveries and vital well-being checks.
Both Wolf and Cooper are grateful for the chance to give back to their community through CJE. “We’ve been volunteering together for 18 years now!” said Wolf. “We both donate our money and our time. For me personally, the hands-on volunteer work just makes me feel grateful. We’re very fortunate, and it’s been rewarding to give back.”
When the two started volunteering together—each with children of similar ages who went to school together—Wolf had already been delivering meals with another friend, who later stopped volunteering. Cooper and her service dog had also started visiting with residents at Lieberman Center. Cooper and her pup continued to make rounds on Lieberman Center floors, then they’d all hop in the car to deliver meals to HDM clients.
Cooper says that while volunteering alongside Wolf has been a boost for their friendship, both find it’s also been a personally fulfilling experience meeting older adults in the community through CJE’s meal delivery service. “We both feel like we’re helping the people we deliver to by giving them face-to-face contact. They may never see anyone else but us that day. They see somebody who cares about them and cares that they’re HDM volunteers provide much more than nutritious, kosher meals to older adults in their homes. “Connecting with the older adults while delivering meals is the most important thing we do. Many people we deliver to are in their mid-90s living alone. We’re their contact to the outside world,” said Wolf. “The companionship we provide means a lot to them, so that’s what keeps me doing it for so many years. We’re really helping one person at a time, and they’re always so appreciative.”
Over time, Cooper and Wolf have developed special connections with various HDM clients, often taking the time to sit and swap stories and life experiences with them. “In the beginning, Robin and I had a very good relationship with a woman. She was a Holocaust survivor and we would listen to her stories. We felt like we were doing good just by visiting with her for an extra 10 minutes. When we would see things not going so well, we’d call and inform CJE and her son, who would sometimes visit,” said Cooper. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve developed strong connections with others. They really enjoy hearing about our lives because it brings them closer to the outside world, especially those who don’t ever leave their apartments.”
Weekly meal deliveries usually give volunteers a chance to check on the older adult’s health and well-being, Cooper adds: “Sometimes we notice that there might be some issues, and we can always call to let CJE know that we see something that’s not going well in their home.”
If something doesn’t seem right, Wolf and Cooper know they can always rely on CJE to look into the situation—whether it’s calling up an older adult’s family members or arranging for other helpful services. “CJE is great because, if we detect a problem, it’s dealt with immediately. If we call the HDM Department, it’s a link to a social worker and other services. So CJE is pretty special for caring for all these people out in the community,” said Wolf.
Volunteering with older adults in the community can often open the doors for bigger conversations about our own futures. “Volunteering sparks a discussion between us about our future elderly life,” said Cooper. “We think about how we’re so lucky to have our families. It opens up that dialogue for us, and it makes us really see and appreciate our lives.”
Cooper says that when she first began volunteering, she felt like she was able to connect with her grandmother’s generation. “My grandmother lived until she was 101-years-old and she was in her 80s when we started volunteering. I remember seeing that connection between my grandmother and the people we were serving and it made me feel like I was doing something important for that community,” said Cooper.
She also had another inspiration for delivering meals through CJE: “My father-in-law delivered meals as a volunteer until he was around 81-years-old with a friend. They delivered meals for 20 years together. They’d started in their early 60s because they’d both just retired,” said Cooper. “So they were older, but were seeing generations older than them and what they would become, and I think it made a huge difference in their lives.”
Wolf admits she’s always had an affinity for helping older adults. “Supporting CJE has been personally meaningful to me. I’m a nurse and I’ve always gravitated toward that [older] population. So it’s something that comes from my heart,” she said. She also believes it’s important for younger generations to get involved, and to do something meaningful and rewarding personally. “It’s important to help this generation because we’re all going to get older. It’s what our future is...we’re all going to be in that situation one day.”
As long-term volunteers and ambassadors of CJE in the community, both Wolf and Cooper have discovered the value of its commitment to older adults. Cooper says, “To sit around at home and never talk to anyone or never see anyone can be pretty depressing. As the generation we’re serving gets older and is still living alone independently, CJE allows them to have a connection to the outside world. It’s wonderful and necessary for people to get involved with this organization.”