SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For San Franciscans like Carmen Sy, the simple pleasure of a home-cooked meal was not a possibility -- until Meals on Wheels came into the picture.
Now, twice a week, she is greeted by a Meals on Wheels driver, like Ken Leaf, with a nutritious meal in hand and a smile on their face.
Since 1970, the organization not only delivers meals to isolated, homebound adults, they also provide daily human contact and other supportive services to prevent premature institutionalization.
Meals on Wheels spokesperson Jim Oswald said, "Loneliness and isolation are one of the biggest factors in pretty much all groups, but certainly older adults, 60 and older," and a Meals and Wheels driver may be the only person these adults see that day.
According to their website, the organization is built upon the belief that "all seniors have the right to live independently with dignity and respect in their own homes for as long as safely possible."
Meals on Wheels offers two meals a day, seven days a week on a delivery schedule tailored to the wants of the seniors. Besides meals, they provide grocery delivery, nutrition counseling, well-being checks, and more.
Last year, the organization served more than 5,000 older adults in San Francisco and Northern San Mateo County, which equates to about 2.6 million meals.
Sy has lived alone since her husband's passing. Even though her vision is poor, she keeps her home in pristine condition. Her home is filled with emblems of her faith and family. She is meticulous about tending to her plants as she overlooks the constant road construction of her Sunset neighborhood.
She welcomed ABC7 reporter Lyanne Melendez into her home with no hesitation.
Sy admits she often feels, "Very lonely, very lonely, so I try to be very strong."
When faced with loneliness, she reminds herself, "When you fall down, no matter how hard it is, you can climb, you have to climb and get up by yourself."
With repeated visits to the same individuals, drivers build connections with those they serve.
"You get to find out little bits about that person you're working with, and they remember your name and there are times when I have to fill in and the clients are all asking, 'Where's my regular driver?'" Leaf said. "They know them by name and 'Are they OK?' 'Are they sick?' So, you see that there's a lot of love."
Leaf sees a variety of people on a daily basis. He, like the other drivers, also keeps an eye on the status of their health and other issues they may be dealing with.
When asked about Leaf, Sy said, "He is very helpful. Not only is he very helpful, very kindhearted, he could bring my food up to me and tells me where to put it, so he helps me (with) everything."
Oswald walked Melendez through the organization's Industrial Kitchen and Food Distribution Center in the San Francisco's Bayview District. The site produces more than 10,000 meals a day.
He explained the strictness of nutrition in every meal. Meals are tailored for their clients. For those navigating challenges or special dietary restrictions, meals will be altered.
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, the team will prepare 6,900 meals to distribute. Some will also go to local navigation centers and Single-Room-Occupancy's.
These meals are served with a handwritten card created by volunteers to brighten what could be a particularly lonely day for these adults.
When asked what he was grateful for, Oswald said, "I'm grateful for living in a city that cares about people."
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