‘More than a meal’

Cynthia Sutter-Tkel, social services consultant for the Golden State Division, shares an experience during a client interview, part of the Social Services review of the San Francisco Family Services Department.

His name was Cory. Small in stature and bound to a wheelchair, he didn’t allow his situation to get in the way of greeting me with a huge smile. His cheerful attitude on that autumn day masked the fact that this young man—only in his 30s—was badly stricken with brittle bone disease.

I first met him in the lobby of his single room occupancy hotel, maneuvering his wheelchair into the elevator while welcoming the San Francisco Meals That Heal director, Eleanor Katopes. Given his circumstances, Cory’s willingness to invite me—a complete stranger—into his home to share his story was encouraging. He brought us to the rooftop garden and began to reveal how the Meals That Heal program was more than a meal to him.

At age 20, Cory was homeless in his wheelchair and living on the San Francisco streets in a rough neighborhood. On top of the expected physical toll of the homeless life, Cory experienced many falls, accidents and fractures, exaggerated by his brittle bone disease—plaguing him with chronic pain and bouts of depression. Thankfully, a local agency referred Cory to the Meals That Heal program.

The program provides home delivered meals to a growing population of individuals of all ages who—due to incapacitating disabilities and illness—are unable to leave their home to shop for food or travel to one of The Salvation Army’s congregate meal sites. Meals that Heal offers hot, nutritious meals Monday through Friday and a weekend bag of groceries for people who have no other way to provide for themselves.

Program staff and volunteers also create a human link for the participants to the outside world. For many, it is the only human contact they receive each day—this personal touch builds friendships that last for years. Staff members provide visitations, assessing the physical and emotional state of the individual and arranging for further assistance when necessary, including wheelchairs, social services, walkers, refrigerators, clothing, blankets, mattresses and more.

For Cory, the program has literally been a lifesaver.

“Without the nutritious food provided by Meals That Heal, I don’t think I would have lived this long,” he said. “The food [tastes] so much better than other programs and is so nicely served.”

Cory also expressed his gratitude toward the volunteers and staff who show up every day and often are the only reason he has to get out of bed each day. Even during the holidays, the staff usually does something special to show they care.

“In over 11 years of service, they have never missed a meal,” he said. “Not one single delivery.”

Upon our departure, Cory offered us farewell hugs and an invitation to return to talk more about the program he was so grateful for. Through my conversation with Cory and review of the Meals that Heal program, I discovered that we’re delivering more than a meal—we’re providing encouragement, companionship and hope.

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