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January 10, 2019 | Theatre, Race and Equity,

A Day in the Life of Meals on Wheels

At 6:00 am, the Somerville kitchen for Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center begins preparing the 3,000 daily meals for the elderly all across the Boston metro area. By 9:00 am, the vans are packed full of coolers with several hundred meals each and depart on one of the 14 routes serving Quincy, Brighton, downtown Boston and beyond. By 1:00 pm, all 3,000 meals have been served and the vans return to Somerville to be unpacked and cleaned for the next morning to begin the process again, ending the day around 2:00 pm.

Manual Cinema’s The End of TV revolves around a budding friendship between an elderly woman and her Meals on Wheels driver in a quest for connection amid the static. We at ArtsEmerson decided to join the Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center on one of their meal delivery routes to see firsthand what goes into a meal delivery program. What we discovered was a group of individuals committed to providing not only quality and nutritious meals to the elderly, but creating a community built on service, generosity and the small but simple act of a smile.

At 10:00 am, we met with Raymond Giang, the Nutrition Program Manager of the GBCGAC, along with the transportation manager, delivery assistant and a driver, as we set off on Route 1 in a crowded van full of boxes of food, carts and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, traversing the Boston neighborhoods bordering Massachusetts Ave. When asked what compelled them to work for a meal delivery service, some transferred their skills from the restaurant industry in search of a more stable and routine lifestyle, finding the connections they created with the meal recipients and the elderly community at large became the priority. Our driver, Alvin, joined the ranks following the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013, dedicated to serving those who were unable to serve themselves especially in the wake of tragedy. While each of them explained their story, it was told through soft smiles and a humble nature. The delivery service is not about them. It is completely about the individuals they serve.

Everyone who receives meals from GBCGAC is mailed a monthly menu curated by the kitchen and a nutritionist, complete with nutrition facts from calorie count to salt intake. On this particular day, it was steamed pork ribs with radish, accompanied by a carton of either 2% milk or soy milk and a piece of fruit. Each delivery is greeted with a smile, a moment of brief conversation and then a quick departure to the next recipient. The entire route takes about one minute per meal delivery, this particular route averaging at around five hours daily.

These meal delivery programs are also an important safety practice. In the few instances where no one answered the door, our delivery assistant would text a manager back at the administrative offices to let them know no one was home. If their absence becomes a consecutive trend, family members are alerted and a wellness check is conducted to ensure the safety of the individual. These checks become vital, especially with homebound senior citizens who may otherwise may not have daily visitors.

The meal recipients qualify for the program depending on a number of factors. The minimum age to qualify is 60 and the person must be homebound and/or unable to cook for themselves. There’s a number of reasons why someone might qualify, including arthritis, dementia, a number of other health concerns or perhaps a lack of family support in the area.

Coolers were unloaded from the van onto hand trucks, pushed through a memorized maze of subsidized apartment complexes and delivered to hundreds of units. We would arrive on the next floor and as the elevator doors would open, a group of people would be there to greet us, helping delivering meals to their neighbors throughout the building. Hanging the bags of meals on the handles of their walkers or collecting several in their arms, these volunteers had a specific job, delivering the lunches to their friends daily and creating a neighborhood within the confines of an apartment building. Full of chatter and laughter, a meal became an invitation to foster community.

As we said goodbye to our newfound friends, we were left with feeling elated and inspired by the dedication and hard work of so many who ensure some of the most treasured members of our society are not only kept healthy, but help them sustain a full life. Whether it’s the hot meal, a high five, or even just a passing moment in the corridor, our meal delivery journey captured an essential and heartwarming phenomenon of generosity.

The End of TV celebrates this same feeling of generosity by introducing us to Flo, an elderly woman, and Louise, her Meals on Wheels driver, as they create genuine connection through the noise of daily life. The story of their friendship dovetails the Technicolor promises of TV advertisements and the decline of a Midwestern town to weave a portrait of true human connection.

Don’t miss Manual Cinema’s The End of TV at the Emerson Paramount Center (JAN 16-27) and perhaps, find your own connection amid the static.

Special thanks to the Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center, City of Boston’s Senior Nutrition Program and Commission on Affairs of the Elderly for partnering with us.

Photos by Blair Nodelman 

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