Cold won't stop 88-year-old Meals on Wheels volunteer
Five days a week, 88-year-old Samuel Grimes arrives at the Arlington Heights Senior Center by 7:30 a.m. to start his day.
He's not there to use any of the facility's amenities, or even to socialize.
He's there to work -- even though he isn't getting paid.
Grimes is a volunteer with the Community Nutrition Network, one of several organizations throughout the suburbs that provides lunches to homebound seniors through the Meals on Wheels program.
And even though temperatures hovered near minus 3 degrees Monday morning, there was Grimes, bundled up and ready to complete his daily run of 34 meal deliveries to clients in Des Plaines, Park Ridge and Niles.
And he plans to be back at work Tuesday morning, when temperatures may be even colder, perhaps as low as minus 14 degrees in the early morning, forecasters say.
Officials with the Community Nutrition Network say they will call off deliveries if the weather is especially treacherous, but it also depends on the volunteers and their ability to brave the elements.
Grimes says he prefers dealing with hot summer weather, if he had to pick between extremes. But completing his deliveries in the extreme cold is nonetheless possible.
"As long as I can keep moving and my hands warm," he said.
And many of his clients on Monday said they appreciate his efforts -- not only for the food he brings them but also for his friendly smile and warm personality that comes with the ring of each doorbell.
For some, Grimes and the mail carrier are the only two people they may see all day.
"He's one of my regular people. Probably more regular than anybody else," said Robert McPheron, 71, who lives by himself in Des Plaines. "The food -- it'd probably be better if he cooked it himself. But there are things that I can use and benefit from.
"It's nice to have somebody come by."
Grimes is one of 17 volunteers with the Community Nutrition Network at the senior center in Arlington Heights. Of that number, about 10 make deliveries in their cars or vans provided by the organization; the others help put the prepackaged food containers into plastic bags in the senior center's kitchen in the morning.
Grimes, an early riser at 5:30 a.m. each day, arrives to the senior center early to package the foods for his route and the routes of other volunteers. In total, there are some 100 clients served throughout the Northwest suburbs, including Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Niles, and Wheeling and Maine townships.
On this day, Grimes and two other volunteers are putting together packages of roast pork, carrots, mashed potatoes, bread and juice.
He moves throughout the kitchen quickly, bringing trays out of warming ovens and putting the individual containers in plastic bags. He's on a tight schedule -- clients are supposed to get their lunches between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and most await Grimes' arrival at the same time each day.
"If I'm 15 minutes late, they want to know what's happening," Grimes said. "(They say), 'Where have you been? I was worried about you.'"
Sure enough, by 10 a.m., Grimes has loaded up a van full of red warming containers, and he's off to his first delivery in Des Plaines.
Grimes started volunteering with Meals on Wheels in Evanston in 1994, but he has been at the Arlington Heights location for the past three years. He knows his route by heart, and each client by name.
He says he likes volunteering not only because it helps others but because it helps him. He likes getting out of the house every day, and he hopes to keep volunteering for as long as he can.
Penny Jaworski, who lives in a Des Plaines condo, said Grimes has hardly missed a meal delivery -- no matter rain, sleet, snow or cold. Even so, she says she expected to get a phone call from the senior center on Monday to say that meals wouldn't be delivered because of the extreme cold.
"It's really a lifeline, (since) I don't always have somebody come," Jaworski said. "So it's nice to have him come, and the meals are really appreciated. I can't stand very long, so I get a more well-rounded meal than I would get cooking it myself.
"I appreciate it, especially in this kind of weather, that they can get out."
Stephanie Bartholomew, a program assistant with the Community Nutrition Network, said if the volunteer drivers can't make their deliveries, clients can have "emergency meals" that have previously been delivered and consist of nonperishable items such as canned goods.
But Grimes never takes a day off, she says.
"I can't believe this person exists," Bartholomew said. "It's just beyond words. ... He thinks of everybody else besides himself."