Last Wednesday, October 5th, about forty people gathered in the Food & Friends’ garden for the memorial service of long-time volunteer Darrell Vail. Several of us agreed that the warm, breezy weather after several cold, miserable days was a gift somehow sent by Darrell. Food & Friends volunteers, staff, and other guests gathered to commemorate the 22 years of service and countless hours Darrell devoted to preparing meals in the kitchen and also supporting staff and volunteers on the Wednesday morning shift. As one volunteer put it, “Darrell was one of the good guys.” In addition to Food & Friends, Darrell and his partner, Dick, volunteered with other community organizations such as Prime Timers whose members were also present at the service.
A number of those in attendance chose to share their memories of Darrell and the ways in which he touched their lives. Darrell had a way of making one’s day better with simple gestures. He brightly greeted each person who walked into the kitchen and made sure to wish everyone a good week as they left. He organized the Wednesday morning crew and kept track of birthdays and special events in other volunteers’ lives. Designated the Wednesday morning team captain, he was also really a personal cheerleader, cruise director, sheep herder, and trip planner all rolled into one kind-hearted person.
He personified hospitality and leadership -- was quick to welcome a newcomer and was never seen without a smile. Darrell was always cheerful in the kitchen, and you’d never know he awoke every Wednesday early enough to catch the first metro train in to Food & Friends. It was a blue moon when Darrell missed a Wednesday morning. The team of volunteers who worked with him all said they felt like his family, and Darrell was at the center of it all -- sharing stories while making meals for those in need in the community.
In honor of Darrell, the Wednesday morning volunteers donated a holly tree which has been planted in the Food & Friends garden. Some say the holly berries are a reminder of the pink “I Love Lucy” hat Darrell wore every shift. Many people associated Darrell with his favorite show.
The moment of the service that was most touching for me was when the Wednesday volunteers hung 22 leaves on the Friendship Wall with names of 22 clients – one for each year of Darrell’s unwavering service. Each leaf actually represents thousands of lives touched by Darrell’s gentleness and dedication -- knowingly or unknowingly. It broke my heart to once again remember the world and all of us had lost Darrell forever.
Afterwards, refreshments were served including Darrell’s favorite German chocolate cake (recipe from Darrell's mom below). It was another connection to Darrell. The cake was made by fellow long-time volunteer and close friend, Karen Fitzgerald. Everyone knew he would have loved it. As keenly as Darrell’s absence was felt, his presence could also be sensed in the garden that sunny afternoon. A lemon yellow butterfly continuously lingered landing time and time again on the memorial bouquet. It just had to be Darrell.