“Hello lovebirds!” chimes Meals-on-Wheels volunteer Bill Donohue, as he hands participant, David two hot meals, one for David and one for his wife Jane, lovingly referred to as Janie. The men greet each other with warm smiles and a firm handshake before David ushers Donohue inside for their weekly catchup, which has become a standard part of Donohue’s Thursday Meals-on-Wheels route. Even a casual observer can see the relationship goes beyond volunteer and participants, it’s true friendship.
Donohue had recently retired as Executive Director of The Special Children’s School and it didn’t take long for his wife to ‘suggest’ that he find something to occupy his newly acquired free time. He was game to explore his options but knew that after a long career in service, he wasn’t interested in reinventing himself. He wanted to spend his time doing something that came naturally. He wanted to care for people. So, he picked up the phone, called Senior Services, and signed up to deliver meals in Spring of 2020—at the height of a growing pandemic.
This created a unique start to Donohue’s foray into volunteer service. Due to COVID protocols, he was asked to deliver boxes of five frozen meals instead of the hot meals the program is known for. Masks were also part of the safety protocols and Donohue was concerned that knocking on someone’s door for the first time while wearing a mask would add a layer of difficulty communicating with participants. He recalled, “When I started, I didn’t know how to approach people on their doorsteps, what to expect, or how they might react when they saw me (especially during the height of COVID)…but I knew I had something to give.” Despite his initial apprehension, Donohue set out on his first delivery. One of the first people he met was a participant celebrating her 76th birthday. Coincidentally, Donohue had recently turned 76 himself. That shared experience created a moment of shared connection. Later on, during that same route, he met a 92-year-old gentleman who was a die-hard Kentucky Wildcats fan. Donohue’s nephew happened to work for that very team. Donohue himself is a died-in-the-wool Wake Forest fan and just like that, another connection was made over the love of sports. The pair continue to exchange some friendly “ribbing” and “smack talk” about their teams. “I started meeting people and it got off to a great start.” Bill was not only caring for people, he was having fun.
Now, three years in, Donohue looks forward to coming in for his weekly route. He enjoys seeing the staff greet every volunteer in the Pickup Room and connecting with the participants on his route whom he affectionately calls, “his team.” His team consists of a diverse array of “members,” some who have limited eyesight and may need him to come in to help put their meal in the kitchen, some who were unsure of him at the beginning but now take the time to chat, and some like the “lovebirds,” David and Janie, who routinely welcome him into their living room for conversation and sometimes, especially during Janie and Bill’s health challenges, a moment of prayer.
“It’s a gift exchange every Thursday,” says Donohue, “it’s the best part of my week.”
To Donohue, Senior Services and the Meals-on-Wheels program is an important part of Forsyth County. “I don’t know how a community can exist without something like Senior Services,” he stated. “They have stepped up and filled a need, a growing need because our community is aging.” His experience has also impacted him personally. Donohue reflected, “most of my life I was trying to earn a paycheck, it is a whole different experience not on a career path, aging is a period of change…it is important to me to give back to people for as long as I can, knowing that at some point someone may be delivering to me.” To him, the choice to volunteer is easy, “$3 in gas, an hour or two, a free cup of coffee, and you feel good for the rest of the week.” It’s also more than just delivering meals for him, “it’s a fist bump, a hug, it’s a relationship and window into a whole new world in our community.”
The participants on Donohue’s route feel the impact of his service as well. Janie will hear David exclaim, “Oh good this is Thursday, Bill’s coming!” The couple reflected that it is difficult now that they can’t leave their home safely anymore because that means they don’t see many people and do many of the social activities they have enjoyed. However, they know when Bill rings their doorbell they will get to sit down to share stories and life together like they have always loved to do.
Senior Services is lucky to have dedicated volunteers just like Bill. Our community is aging and needs the support of caring people—just like him and the hundreds of others who come together in service to seniors—to meet the needs. Will you deliver?