TAWN PARENT Commentary: Go beyond the turkey on Thanksgiving

Too much enthusiasm can do you in.

Three years ago, my family volunteered to deliver Thanksgiving dinner for Meals on Wheels. In a moment of excessive gusto, I decided we should throw ourselves into the holiday spirit for the occasion. We spent days practicing “Over the River and Through the Woods,” with which we planned to enchant recipients at each stop. On the big day, I stuffed my 2-year-old into a fringed Indian costume, against his will. My husband, reluctantly, and I, with more eagerness, donned the ridiculously large Pilgrim headwear I had painstakingly crafted.

Once on the road, my son’s mood turned from bad to worse. He kicked and screamed whenever we tried to remove him from the car, so we finally gave up. My husband and I took turns delivering the meals solo, sans musical accompaniment.

Although I was disappointed by the failure of my grand plans, I still enjoyed myself, and the clients seemed delighted with the meals, the visits and, to a lesser extent, the hats.

That is one of many memorable moments from the eight years I have volunteered for Meals on Wheels. I sit on the board as well as delivering meals with my family and/or with co-workers who are part of the IBJ delivery squad.

Meals on Wheels’ mission appeals to me because it’s about much more than the food. It’s about people who are elderly or disabled being able to remain in their homes instead of going into an institution. It’s about couples being able to stay together. It’s about dignity. And it’s about connecting with people and having fun.

I have met some real characters over the years. One of our most colorful clients was “Elvira.” Whenever I knocked on her door, she would shout, “Come on!” so vigorously that at first I feared I was interrupting a domestic dispute. But I soon learned it was her standard greeting. The first time I brought along my stepdaughter, then 6, Elvira shrieked with delight. “Get the baby a Coke! Get the baby a Coke!” she shouted to a visiting friend. We enjoyed the Coke and the conversation. Eight years later, my stepdaughter remembers it still. And an IBJ colleague will never forget the time Elvira answered the door in her birthday suit.

Other favorites are the two elderly sisters who live together in a stately house near The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. The ramp at their house has been an irresistible draw for my son. We made a delivery there when he was first learning to walk. We handed the packages of food to “Agnes” and then my son began his long, faltering walk down the ramp. After several minutes, he finally reached the bottom. As I took hold of his hand, I looked up and saw Agnes still standing there, smiling and waving. I think her day had just been made.

And there’s “Joe,” who listens to opera so loud he doesn’t usually hear us until the third knock.

Then there are the times nobody answers the door. That typically happens at least once every time I deliver the route. So I dutifully call it in to the Meals on Wheels office, which contacts the client’s family. Usually, it turns out the client was at the doctor or some other appointment. But about once a month, a call from a driver signals an emergency-a client has taken a bad fall or suffered a heart attack. I wonder sometimes whether a call from me has ever prompted such a discovery.

At its best, volunteer work involves much more than time. It creates relationships and memories that last. I’m grateful Meals on Wheels has given me that. What about you?

I invite you to make a Thanksgiving resolution: If you give time to a charitable effort that has real meaning for you, take this opportunity to deepen your involvement. And if you don’t have such a connection, start looking for one. If you need inspiration, check out the United Way of Central Indiana volunteer listings at www.uwci.orgor call 923-1466.

Because Thanksgiving is about much more than the food, right?

Parent is associate editor of IBJ and a board member of Meals on Wheels. Her column appears monthly. To comment on this column, send e-mail to tparent@ibj.com.

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