Serving up Love

By Brad McEwen

While those of us who have volunteered to deliver hot meals—and a little bit of love—to our friends and neighbors in need through the SOWEGA Council on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program have done so out of an earnest desire to improve our community, an added benefit of that involvement is getting the chance to cross paths with Lucille Crouch—the woman who has been an inspiration to many and the driving force behind the MOW program for decades now.

It’s a rare occurrence when a volunteer shows up at the Council on Aging to pick up the day’s meals and doesn’t get to see Lucille’s smiling face and thus catch a glimpse of the passion and enthusiasm she has for the program that enriches so many lives.

It’s been nearly five years since I regularly worked a MOW route, yet I haven’t forgotten my interactions with Lucille. So I was thrilled recently when I had the chance to sit down with her after a busy day of preparing hot meals, to discuss what the meals program means to her and why it is so important for our community.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Albany Meals on Wheels program is part of a larger, nationwide, Meals on Wheels effort that addresses hunger and isolation in the senior population by providing daily meals to senior citizens that might not otherwise have access to healthy and nutritious food on a regular basis.

In Albany—through the dedication of Lucille, Council on Aging staff and a small army of volunteers—the program has continued to thrive and now provides hot meals to more than 140 area residents five days a week, much to Lucille’s delight.

“It’s just a program that I love and I always have,” Lucille told me matter-of-factly. “We have frozen meals that we send out once a week, so if you put those in the average it’s about 145 meals a day. The frozen meals only go out in a box of five every week, but we do meals five days a week.

“I’ve done a lot of things here (at the Council on Aging). I did transportation before I did meals, but this is just a program I like. I have a passion for it.”

That Lucille has a passion for the Meals on Wheels program is evident to anyone who has spent time with her and many would argue that she is the heart and soul of the program, but the meals program is not the only way in which she has had an impact on others.

Although health concerns have slowed her down in recent years, Lucille has been an active volunteer most of her adult life.

A charter member of Porterfield United Methodist Church, Lucille said that like her parents before her, she has always been involved in volunteer efforts through the church—serving on various committees, getting involved in different causes, and teaching Sunday school.

“I used to do a lot through the church, but I have severe emphysema, bad lungs, so I do very little of that anymore,” said with a hint of disappointment. “But I used to do everything. I had MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) and I taught Sunday school for 23 years with a co-teacher.”

Despite that level of involvement, Lucille downplays her impact at the church in her typical, humorous style, saying she got involved with the church’s youth by default, simply because she likes kids and because she was there.

“Well I love kids so that’s why I started teaching Sunday school, and we were a new church and they needed people; they didn’t hand pick,” she said with a smile. “They didn’t have many to hand pick from so that’s probably why I got it.

So the church was mostly the way that I volunteered. And of course once you volunteer your name’s in cement. You’re just there. But really I loved it.”

Her ability to be involved was also aided, in a roundabout way, by her circumstances at home, where tragedy ultimately gave her the opportunity to serve on a broader scale and eventually find her true passion of helping the elderly.

“I love old people,” she said with a laugh. “I’m like my great uncle that was a minister. He always said, ‘I like the beginning and the end of life.’

“I started as a volunteer 43 years ago. My husband died early and I had four children so I didn’t want to work. They were deprived of their dad, so I wanted to be home as long as they were home; so I volunteered while they were at school. Kay (Hind, the recently retired long-time executive director of the SOWEGA Council on Aging) was my friend so I volunteered. It was something I could do while the boys were at school. When they got to where school was out I started working part-time. When they all left home I started working full-time.”

Once full-time, Lucille redoubled her efforts with the Council on Aging and continued to be a champion for the Meals on Wheels program she still spearheads today.

For Lucille, the program—which provides much needed meals to a sometimes overlooked segment of the population—is vitally important in a community like ours due to the rising elderly population and the fact that a large percentage of that population doesn’t have adequate access to healthy food.

But perhaps even more importantly though, in addition to providing nutritious meals to residents, the program also fosters a certain level of companionship for a population that is too often shut off from the world around them.

Volunteers who have regularly run a MOW route know the importance of interacting with meal recipients, many of which feel that human touch to be more important than the hot meal.

But Lucille knows those interactions are just as powerful for the volunteers themselves.

“If doing this don’t bless you, nothing will,” she said of volunteering with the program. “I’ve seen men that, you know after the first time they do it, they look forward to it. We had one that used to do it, he’d come back and he’d give me a history on every one of them (meal recipients). I didn’t need quite that much information, but he spent the time with them. He’d come back and tell me more than I needed to know but he loved doing it.

“I think it’s something that touches everybody, even people that are kind of hard-hearted. When they go and see these folks they know they’re blessed.”

While the blessing that comes from doing for others is certainly an important motivator for many of the MOW volunteers, Lucille feels that the true blessings are the volunteers themselves.

Throughout our morning together, the MOW chief had nothing but praise for the many men and women—either individually, through their involvement in civic organizations like Rotary Club or Kiwanis, or through their church—who donate their time to make sure our senior population is fed and cared for.

“We’ve got such great people (who volunteer),” she said. “I think that’s part of it. You can pick up the paper and listen to the news and see all this (negative) stuff, but I come to work and I see these good folks—people that, when it’s raining, cold, hot, are delivering meals.

“And they spend time—so many of them do things that I don’t even know about that I find out about later. I’ve got one that delivers every Tuesday and she takes them cookies every week. And dogs, if they have dogs she takes them a treat.

“They just do good things. It’s marvelous. I see the best. I might not read about the best (in the paper), but I see the best.”

In fact, while it’s obvious that Lucille continues to helm the Meals on Wheels program—showing up at the council on aging kitchen five days a week at 7 a.m.—because she believes she’s making a difference, she’s quick to point out that it’s really her life that has been enriched through the program.

“I don’t have an impact,” she told me with totally seriousness. “They have an impact on me. I promise you that.

“You know, I go home and I know I’m so blessed. I see these people that are doing for others and they do it with a smile. They use their own car, they use their own time and they like to do it. It’s just a blessing. It’s more of a blessing to me than I could ever be to them.

“I work with good people (at the Council on Aging). Kay and I have been friends for over 50 years and I love Debbie (Blanton, the current executive director) and Izzie (Sadler, the council’s associate director). I work with good people, all of them. When you see good people and work with them it’s just a blessing.”

And although her humble nature would bristle at the praise, there’s really no denying that for many who have spent time with her and for those who have benefitted from the Meals on Wheels on program over the years, that Lucille Crouch is a true blessing herself.

Her positivity is infectious and her passion for serving others and helping to spread love throughout this community is unmatched. In my mind there’s simply no doubt that my hometown is a better place thanks to Lucille.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen