Judy Wright’s Thursday nights include stops at area restaurants to pick up donated meals for hospice families. Wright received a recent evening’s deliveries from Charles Reeves, chef-owner of Burlington’s Penny Cluse Cafe and Lucky Next Door. Reeves’ establishments are among 32 Chittenden County eateries supporting local families through the Brandon-based Dinners With Love program.
By Kim Asch
Judy Wright has a standing reservation each week as a volunteer driver for Dinners With Love. On Thursday evenings, she follows a carefully choreographed route, picking up donated takeout meals from area restaurants and delivering them to clients enrolled in community hospice care through The University of Vermont Health Network Home Health & Hospice.
“People are so appreciative to have a meal they didn’t have to prepare,” says Wright, who brings dinners to patients and caregivers alike, sometimes traveling between three different restaurants and households around Chittenden County. “I’m greeted with big smiles and hugs — I get so much out of doing this.”
Participating restaurant owners say they too appreciate the chance to contribute.
“It’s really not a burden for us and it feels great to provide healthy and genuine food that can nurture and lift the spirits of these community members,” says Charles Reeves, chef-owner of neighboring Burlington eateries Penny Cluse Cafe and Lucky Next Door.
Dinners With Love is a nonprofit based in Brandon, Vt., that works with hospice agencies throughout the state. Patients enrolled in community hospice care have terminal illnesses and receive a range of services designed to help them live their remaining months comfortably at home. Since partnering with the program two years ago, UVM Home Health & Hospice has lined up a roster of 32 restaurant donors and 34 volunteers who have completed the hospice volunteer training course.
“The training is important, because we’re not just dropping off food. We’re also checking in to see how people are doing,” says Wright, a retiree who also volunteers to visit twice weekly with hospice patients.
Volunteer Jill Abilock works with Charley MacMartin, Home Health & Hospice’s Volunteer Services manager, to coordinate logistics for the agency. Each Monday, Abilock checks in with 20 clients currently on the roster to find out what they have a taste for that week. Lasagna from Papa Frank’s in Winooski? Prime rib and mashed potatoes from Longhorn Steakhouse in Williston? Broiled scallops from Papa Nick’s in Hinesburg? She does her best to pair the same drivers with clients each week, then develops a detailed Google document that maps assignments, meal orders and pick-up times.
In addition to the two meals he donates weekly for Dinners with Love, Jozef Harrewyn of Chef’s Corner Café and Bakery in Williston sends 10 meals weekly to the McClure Miller Respite House in Colchester. Pam, Harrewyn’s wife of 38 years, died Sept. 8, 2017 of stomach cancer and spent her last days there.
“When I saw how well Pam was treated at the Respite House and how cancer people suffer, your whole vision of life changes,” he says. “You know your contributions are going to people who are ill or to caregivers who are helping people who are ill. It’s making people happy who deserve it.”
Abilock says several community hospice care clients have told her that Dinners With Love restored their interest in food. Wright has witnessed firsthand the uplifting effects a favorite restaurant meal can have.
“I always try to remember that when people are dying they’re still living,” she says. “I really think in a lot of ways, hospice does extend the really good time people have left.”
To learn about volunteering with Home Health & Hospice’s Dinners With Love program, or to make a donation to support UVM Health Network Home Health & Hospice, please contact Volunteer Services Manager Charley MacMartin at Charles.MacMartin@uvmhomehealth.org.
Dinners With Love’s full list of participating restaurants can be found here.