The older adults who answer their door to Lincoln Wilson on a given Friday midmorning are more than happy to do so, and it’s only partly because the teenager is carrying a tray with their lunch balanced on top.
It’s also because the 17-year-old is so nice and polite and helpful. They may ask him to help solve a computer problem, which he will; or maybe take the trash to the curb, which he does. And, yes, he will gladly stay a few minutes longer to hear the stories and musings of someone grateful to have a pair of ears willing to listen.
Lincoln — with help from his sisters Kennedy, 13, and Carter, 6 — is the youngest volunteer to handle a route for Cobb County Senior Services Meals on Wheels. Every Friday, the kids and their grandmother, Carolyn Ingold of Marietta, load the back of her vehicle with coolers filled with packaged meals for 13 clients. Some will get food for their pets, too. And on occasion, the youngsters will deliver a bag filled with books on special order from the public library.
These little services mean a lot to those who can no longer get around like they used to. They mean a lot to Lincoln, too.
The teen is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Donald Ingold, who managed this route for more than a decade before he passed away in 2012. For Ingold, it was more than just delivering the meals, said his family. He got to know the people on his route. He spent time talking with them, doing little chores, and even going grocery shopping for one elderly lady. He could always be counted on to help out with other meal routes when needed, too.
“He always said he got more out of it than they did,” said wife Carolyn.
“He really enjoyed it, and I feel the same,” added Lincoln.
Being a Meals on Wheels volunteer in Cobb has been something of a generational tradition for the Ingolds. Don and Carolyn’s son, Brian, also delivered meals in Cobb County and continues to be involved in Meals on Wheels after moving to Albuquerque, N.M.
Lincoln had been going with his grandfather to deliver meals since he was a young boy. He wanted to take over the Friday route so he could continue serving the same people.
Since he was too young to drive, his grandmother or uncle or mother would drive him while he made the deliveries. Now, the teen trains others to be Meals on Wheels volunteers.
“Young people his age aren’t used to hanging out with older people, but he built confidence through working with his grandfather,” said Jobcy Alexander, Cobb Senior Services nutrition coordinator, who oversees the Meals on Wheels program.
Alexander and her staff start their day early. Vendors deliver the frozen meals around 6:45 a.m., then they are packed into coolers and taken to nine different drop-off sites. Volunteers start picking up for their delivery routes around 10 a.m.
Cobb Senior Services has 200 clients age 60 and older who receive the delivered meals. Unlike most other counties, Cobb charges a fee for the meals using a sliding scale. The program also operates on state and county funding, plus private donations. Alexander said they try to serve any senior who wants the service, and are always searching for those who need it.
“One of the difficulties is that people who need the service are homebound, but how do we get to them?” Alexander said.
The county tries to get the word out through open forums, sending out fliers and asking churches and civic organizations for referrals. Alexander said national studies show seniors who get the meals are more likely to remain in their homes, and they also feel safer.
“They know if they fall at night there’s going to be someone coming by the next day to deliver the meal who can check on them,” she said.
Alexander depends on 300 volunteers to make meal deliveries. They represent churches, civic clubs and businesses. There are county employees who deliver on their lunch break, and families who make daily deliveries, splitting up the week among themselves.
Lonnie Love of Marietta, a retired school teacher, has been a Meals on Wheels volunteer since 1995. He said the older adults he meets are always glad to see him and value his company. “The sad part of it is that they are older folks and they don’t last,” Love said.
Paul Beige, also of Marietta, is another longtime volunteer. When he delivers a meal it will often come with a song — something with a catchy tune that he made up for that day. Some clients have come to expect his little ditties and will ask for them.
Marcel Lytle of Marietta tears up when asked about the service he receives.
“This Meals on Wheels has been a godsend. Last month I ended up with 50 cents in the bank. Well, there’s nothing you can get for 50 cents,” said the 64-year-old retiree. He has also been able to get food for Chewy, his dachshund-mix.
“Meals on Wheels has been a lifesaver. It really has. And I know there are a whole lot of people just like me out there,” Lytle said.