Invisible People

By Riley McDavid Riley McDavid

(Mr. and Mrs. McD have been on their annual pilgrimage to the beautiful state of  Washington, including an idyllic few days among 100-foot tall pines in the village of Packwood. As is our vacation custom we are republishing an earlier blog.  This one, which is about the Next Meal Club, first appeared in November of 2012.)

For those of you not old enough to remember, which is just about everyone under 60, Naked City was a popular television detective series that told the fictional story of police work in a Manhattan precinct. The show, which aired on ABC from 1958 to 1963, was shot entirely in New York, and each episode was structured as a documentary in order to achieve a gritty realism.

Among the viewing public — the viewing public of a certain age, that is — the series is mostly remembered for the iconic closing line the narrator uttered at the end of each episode: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”

Think about that line next time you are riding the Metroliner to Los Angeles and looking at house after house just beyond the tracks.  Or when you are waiting in your car at a busy intersection and seeing dozens of anonymous people crossing the street.  Or when you are driving by a nondescript apartment building whose inhabitants are hidden from view.

When I was very young — maybe nine or ten — my friend Jerry Hayes and I were walking on the west side of Bangor, Maine, taking a circuitous route home after playing basketball at the Y.

“Can you help me?” a woman’s voice called out.

We looked up to the left and a lady was standing in the doorway of what could be described as, at the very best, a modest one-story triplex.  We asked if she was hurt or sick.

“No. My hall light has gone out and I can’t put a new one in.” Now kids that age can be a little suspicious of older strangers, and that we were.  Nevertheless we walked bravely up to the door and into the hall. She had a new bulb in her hand, and Jerry, who was a bit taller than I, climbed up on a chair, took the old bulb out and put the new one in.

She thanked us, and then asked about where we were going, and we told her. She wanted to know what school we attended, and we told her that too. Pretty soon we realized she didn’t want to let us go.   She desperately wanted company.  It turned out she lived alone and her only son was half a continent away in Kansas.

Eventually we pulled ourselves away but not before she had given us each an apple as recompense for helping her. Come back again, she said, but we never did.

There are indeed many stories behind the closed doors we pass in every city and town, and most of us don’t know but a tiny fraction of them.  I will tell you who does know them: our Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers.  Each one knows a dozen or more, and collectively they could write a book — many books.

They know people like the light bulb lady, elders whose spouses and friends have passed on and who need human contact as much as they need nutrition. They know people who are otherwise healthy but who can no longer drive and get to a supermarket for food. I met several of them once during a Meals delivery ride along.  Had it not been for Meals on Wheels, they would have been forced out of the emotionally comforting surroundings of their homes and into some kind of institutional setting. And mostly they know those who simply can’t afford sufficient nutritious food.

Statistics about this latter group are daunting. According to one recent study, 8.3 million seniors face the threat of hunger every day in America.  Every day.

And it’s true right here. 

“Orange County may be the land of plenty for some, but not everyone’s living the good life,” Age Well CEO Dr. Marilyn Ditty wrote in an op-ed. “It’s especially true for thousands of homebound senior citizens who depend on Meals on Wheels for their survival.”

You can help by joining The Next Meal Club.

“The what?” you ask.

That was the reaction Mrs. McD and I had when our good friend Arnie first told us about it.

“Ain’t you two never heard of that old saying, ‘I don’t know where my next meal is coming from?” he explained. “Well there’s tons of seniors right here in this county who actually don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  So Age Well has created the Next Meal Club so its Meals on Wheels program can help feed people who are in that kind of pickle.”

“How does it work?” Mrs. McD asked

“You send a donation to Age Well Senior Services,” Arnie said.  “Since people have to eat every day, ideally the donation is a recurring one — so much every month, for example. “

Send a check to Age Well at 24300 El Toro Road, Suite A-2000. Laguna Woods, CA 92637. Or go online to www.myagewell.org and donate using a credit card or PayPal. If you have questions, call (949) 855-8033.

Think about the big numbers for a bit — the 8.3 million seniors facing hunger every day and the nearly half-million meals Age Well provides every year. But mostly think about the smallest number — one.  Bring an invisible recipient to life by drawing a mental image of someone you’ve known who has struggled to get enough nutritious food. And make your donation today.

“In a nation and county as great as ours,” Dr. Ditty wrote, “no one should be going hungry.”

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:

August 8.  The Annual Donor Recognition and Board Installation at the Ritz Carlton, Dana Point, hosted by First Bank. High tea, wine and cheese reception. The event will be in the Pacific Promenade from 4 pm to 7 pm. Tickets: $50 per person.  For more information, call (949) 855-8033

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