Along with food, Meals on Wheels delivers relationships
Groton — Almost immediately after Dennis Przekop hopped out of his blue and white Meals on Wheels station wagon, Art DeWolf offered him a hug.
"I love you. You're beautiful. You're doing a beautiful thing," DeWolf, a former Electric Boat employee and golf instructor, told Przekop, who has been a driver for Thames Valley Council for Community Action program for the last four years.
Przekop, 54, of Taftville is a former truck driver who's licensed to drive taxi cabs and limousines. But four days out of the week, he visits DeWolf and dozens of other seniors and homebound individuals along his Groton route, delivering hot meals and friendly conversation at every stop.
"I like meeting people, and I like knowing that what I'm doing is helping a lot of people," Przekop said during his route on Wednesday, Dec. 19. He added that loneliness is common for folks who are stuck at home. "Unless someone comes to visit them or pick them up, that's where they'll remain. It's almost like being in jail. So when they see me coming, that's it. Sometimes they don't want you to leave."
Sure enough, whether knocking on doors in Poquonnock Village, Branford Manor, Groton Estates or a host of homes and mobile home communities in Groton, Przekop's visits lifted everyone's spirits. Several complimented the driver for his timeliness, others bantered with him about the meals or the weather.
Dolores Harrell, who's been receiving meals from Przekop for the last couple years, welcomed him into her home as she sat in her chair reading a newspaper. She teased him for being late before asking him if he'd opened the tin of candy she'd gotten him for Christmas. Then she recommended Przekop consider getting a ragdoll cat and described the comings and goings of her felines, Taj and Zoey.
"I get all the news of what's going on in the neighborhood from Dennis," said Harrell, who's 93 years old and a former longtime member of Groton's Representative Town Meeting.
Harrell and other clients received Christmas cards that day, which Przekop had stuffed into his handfuls of several plastic bags containing the meals.
"Before, the bags used to dig into my fingers," he said smiling. "I don't even feel them anymore."
Przekop delivers 50-plus meals in about two dozen stops, including hot lunches and frozen dinners that clients heat up later that night. He said by lunchtime, he's hungry because the smell fills the station wagon, which Subaru Corporation donated to Meals on Wheels. Secor Subaru of New London also has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the program, he added.
The meals, funded through a mix of federal, state and local programs and private donations, are balanced and growing in variety, according to Przekop and Eugene Theroux, TVCCA's director of nutrition services. TVCCA makes adjustments as requested for clients with dietary needs.
At TVCCA's Bozrah commissary, a quick-moving nerve center of cooking, refrigerating and preparation for volunteers and drivers, teams produce between 1,500 and 2,000 meals every day, split among Meals on Wheels and other food programs, including deliveries to local senior centers.
In large refrigerators, stacks upon stacks of sealed food trays containing stuffed shells, dill carrot coins and broccoli are chilled awaiting delivery the next day.
"But it's more than a meal," Theroux said, noting the program provides companionship and serves as a wellness check. "We're not just dropping a meal at the door. We knock on the door, make contact with an individual and it's maybe the only contact they'd have in a day. You develop a relationship."