This past weekend while I was checking my email, I found an unusual and particularly heartwarming message. Our Client Services Manager reported on an out of the ordinary encounter between a client and volunteer delivery person. One of our clients, a 91 years old woman in hospice care, received her regular Saturday delivery from Daniel, a regular volunteer. What was unusual about this delivery was that Daniel found the client in distress and took it upon himself to ensure her well-being. He contacted the client’s family member and the hospice provider, as well as Food & Friends staff, to alert them of the situation. Working together, our teams made sure to quickly get the appropriate care to the client.
I found this quite remarkable because our volunteers’ responsibility is limited to simply delivering the food. But like many others here, Daniel has developed a personal relationship with several of the clients to whom he delivers. After Daniel completed the rest of his delivery route on Saturday, he went back to the client’s house to make sure she was receiving the help she needed. She lives in the District, so this was not particularly convenient for Daniel, who lives in Arlington. His attachment to this client and his sense of responsibility compelled him to go this extra step.
I called Daniel on Saturday after I heard this story from Rachel and had a wonderful conversation with him. I learned that Daniel and his wife Elisa became volunteers at Food & Friends 22 years ago and have remained interested in the organization ever since. They lived away from the Washington area for a while, but when they returned, Daniel told me that one of the first things they did was to reestablish a volunteer relationship with Food & Friends.
When people ask what about Food & Friends is different than other food delivery programs, we generally talk about the specialty diets and nutritional counseling that we provide to all of our clients. But one of the things that really sets us apart beyond this is the degree of engagement by many of our volunteers.
We recently surveyed our volunteers, and one of the striking revelations is the extent to which our volunteers are invested in our clients and wanted to grow those relationships. Many expressed a desire to interact more with clients, or simply know more about how the clients are faring. One way we have responded to these requests is to introduce a pilot volunteer delivery program called “Delivery Jumpers.” These volunteers will accompany our staff drivers on their delivery routes and assist with bringing the meals door to door. It will be a great opportunity for volunteers who are looking to interact with clients, but may not be able or comfortable with delivering on their own. It will also a boon for our drivers who will benefit from the extra help.
The value of the Food & Friends experience comes not just from the food, but from the impactful relationships that so often develop between the volunteer and client. This commitment to excellence is something that we often talk about in terms of staff responsibilities and interactions with clients, but we also see this exemplary compassion in volunteers like Daniel and Elisa.