Senior center volunteers

 vol-un-teer - a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a risk.

I had no idea what to expect when these ladies walked into my office. I have heard stories and seen pictures of their group. All I knew was that I could not wait to meet them. The story is a unique one and their presence is joy-filled.

What a group of women! It is hard to get them all in the same place at the same time, so the meeting included Donna Gudat, Carol Link and Evelyn Nimon. Their story also includes their friends, Judy Russeau and Jackie Mills.

Assuming this group had a cool name, I asked what they called themselves. Donna said, “We have been known as ‘The Wild Tribe’ (and a few other things).”

Each of these ladies is retired. Carol had a career as a registered nurse. She owned her own “Stork for Rent” business for 10 years and volunteered for Meals on Wheels in San Angelo for 20 years.

Evelyn worked as a church secretary. She and her late husband were always involved in ministry. She is grateful to have the ability to serve others.

Donna retired from working in the Aledo school system, where she always worked in human resources. She is now an avid quilter with an incredible talent and creates quilts for charity.

The other ladies in the group are proud recipients of Donna’s quilts. Judy worked for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth before retirement. She is also a quilter, and enjoys traveling, hiking, dancing and spending time with her family and friends. Judy is planning a wedding and the other ladies are “self-proclaimed bridesmaids.”

Jackie worked as a paralegal before retiring. She is also a quilter and a part of the Fidget Chicks, a group that makes fidget mats for Alzheimer’s patients. Jackie volunteers at the food pantry at the Church of Christ. She too enjoys traveling and seeing the countryside from the back of her husband’s motorcycle. Jackie recently got married.

I was intrigued by their energy and equally curious about what brought them together. Carol said, “We got together because we were all widowed about the same time. We all knew of each other and got to know one another really well while going through a grief support group at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church.”

That is how it all began. They bonded through their grief.

It only made sense that they would want to hang out together and serve their community.

Carol said, “We started out as substitute drivers about five years ago.” Evelyn mentioned, “My husband and I had already been volunteers with Meals on Wheels.” She felt a desire to carry on after the loss of her spouse. She remembered, “We delivered as a part the Knights of Columbus group, but we also had our own route that we enjoyed. When my husband passed, the joy that the clients give you, helped me through the grief process.”

Carol said, “We’ve done just about every route until we actually got our own.”

They do the Meadows route every Wednesday, taking from an hour to an hour and a half depending on the number of clients receiving meals that day. When they started delivering, four to five of them would arrive in an SUV to deliver as a team. Social distancing, however, changed their routine.

“We broke it down to just two of us in the car whereas before, it was four or five of us so that we could all go out to eat afterwards,” Carol said.

Talk of going back and having them all delivering together again one day was quickly squashed because on Wednesdays, clients now receive produce boxes as well as a meal. The Tarrant Area Food Bank has generously supplied the clients with these weekly boxes, but when there are 25 to 30 clients on a route, that takes up a LOT of space in any SUV.

Changes in the program during COVID-19 have affected the volunteers’ responsibilities.

“In the beginning of the pandemic when the Senior Center shut down for a while and we were not able to deliver, we were wondering about the clients and what was happening with them,” Donna said.

Due to COVID changes, Carol said, “It probably keeps us from visiting with the clients as much as we would have.” Evelyn added, “We do miss the social part of the program and cannot wait to get back to whatever normal is going to be.”

When asked if there has been a bright spot for them during the pandemic, Donna replied, “Just knowing that you are there for them. We may be the only human they see that day.”

“We have little pet names for some of our clients,” Evelyn said.

This brought one to mind as Donna said, “There was ‘Gramma.’ She reminded me of my grandmother.” Then Evelyn added, “She was everyone’s Granny.”

Evelyn and Carol were delivering meals when things quickly became serious. They knocked on her door and there was no answer. Carol said, “I could hear her through the door. The maintenance man was outside, and we asked him to open it. She was lying there on the floor and had been there all night. It was cold. He called 911 and I covered her up and stayed with her until the ambulance came and took her to the hospital.” Thankfully, she was able to leave the hospital and move in with her daughter. The hard part is that our volunteers were never able to see her again.

Other circumstances are just plain comical. Recently, Donna and Carol were delivering meals when they had an interesting encounter with a little dog named Riley. Donna opened a screen door and accidentally let the spirited dog out. Needless to say, the silly dog immediately took off running. Poor Carol chased down Riley, captured him and hauled him back home.

It seems that Donna may have had a good laugh at the time. They mentioned missing Jackie on that day because she usually does that particular area due to all of the dogs. She is a dog lover.

“Jackie always carries treats for the dogs,” Carol said.

In hindsight, Donna mentioned that maybe Riley would not have gotten out if she had a treat. They had me rolling with laughter as they told the story with the whole neighborhood getting involved. As soon as it happened, the neighbors started hollering, “Riley’s out!” Then everyone was chasing after him.

“The owner was very understanding because Riley sneaks out every chance he gets,” Carol said.

Evelyn has wise advice for anyone feeling alone. “If you are living alone and lonely and don’t know what to do, find a group of friends that you can sit and talk to or quilt with or volunteer together.” She continued, “That’s what we did. I think we all feel that we love one another so much and that we have lots of love to give.”

When asked what they love most about volunteering at Meals on Wheels, they indicated it was the people, the staff and other volunteers.

“Everyone is always friendly and upbeat.” Carol said. “It’s a great example of a program. You could show it to people and they would want to be a part of it.”

The Wild Tribe women said that they never receive requests from the clients that are out of the ordinary. Clients ask them to carry out their garbage, move heavy things from here to there, bring in packages from the porch, and put up their groceries.

Because of COVID rules, Carol noted that they are limited in what they can do for the clients now. She also said that they even receive Christmas gifts from some of their clients sometimes.

What I am seeing from both sides of the story is that everyone is being blessed through volunteers and through volunteering here at Meals on Wheels Hood County.