By Nancy Weingartner Monroe
As a past-her-middle-age woman, I am not the typical meal-delivery driver. But I do have two of the primary skill sets needed for this task: I have a reliable car and a good attitude. And I care how people rate me. The downside is that I am directionally challenged. But all that changes with technology: I have an iPhone. Even I could make all seven stops in just under three hours.
No credit to me, however. Open Arms, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, has delivering healthy meals down to a science. Volunteer drivers come to the kitchen facility around 10:45 a.m. where the staff has the meals packed and the route printed out to ideally make a loop that starts and finishes close to the facility.
An oversize cooler bag holds two delivery stops. Each client gets a week worth of frozen prepared meals that meet their dietary needs, a grocery bag of produce and bakery items and a gallon of milk. Meals are color-coded and everything is labeled. Each bag has two frozen ice packs, and drivers are instructed to keep the bags zipped. If no one is home, the food is returned to Open Arms. Since the clients’ info is on the labels, the packages can’t be left with a neighbor, and for food-safety reasons, it can’t be left outside the door.
Founded in 1986, the nonprofit relies on volunteers to help cook the meals and then deliver them. This year 6,000 volunteers will cook and deliver more than 600,000 meals to people living with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and ALS, as well as their caregivers and dependents.
Christine Wilson, pictured above, a volunteer-engagement coordinator, went over the list with me and explained how to handle any of the situations that might arise. Drivers are asked to knock a minimum of three times and to be patient since clients require time to get to the door. Phone numbers are provided as well.
Some clients may ask you to put the groceries in the refrigerator, she said, but only enter the apartment if you’re comfortable. I can’t picture a for-profit driver, carrying the meal in and setting the table, and I’m fairly sure Grubhub delivery drivers aren’t warned about is how to handle customers who will want to chat, since you may be the only visitor they’ve seen that day.
Although I was provided with printed copies of the directions, I plugged the next address into my iPhone at the end of each stop. Directions on how to get into the building are printed under each address, but I didn’t realize how invaluable this information was until my first stop. The building was a split-level with three floors each with an unmarked door, and the apartment number I was looking for was higher than 3. My confusion meant the client had to walk down the long hallway to greet me, and after watching him painfully walk back with me, I vowed to read the fine print more carefully in the future.
My second stop was a delivery for both the patient and her caregiver, so I tried carrying the heavy bag to the building door and then up two flights of stairs. I couldn’t make it. I was just about to unpack the bag and make two deliveries when a neighbor came to my rescue. He put the bag down inside the door and I thanked him several times and turned to leave. “Don’t you need to take the bag,” he called out. Flustered, I made a lame joke about thinking he wanted the bag. He pretended that he did want it, just so I would feel a little less lame than I was entitled to.
It’s funny, once you’re the recipient of kindness; you’re more attuned to finding it in other places. As I sat at a stoplight, a man in an old electric wheelchair stalled in front of me. He panicked, turning the key over and over. I panicked. And then a man ran over and hurriedly began pushing the wheelchair across the street, no easy feat. If I want to continue doing good deeds, I decided, I better start going to the gym.
Delivering during the day meant no problem finding parking spots outside the buildings, but it also meant being cognizant of road construction sites that have workers and machines blocking the very turn your app expects you to take. I hate it when I disappoint the woman on the app by making it continually reroute.
At each stop, I really enjoyed the brief encounters with the clients. I don’t know why I expected it to be melancholy, but it was just…normal: a delivery person and a recipient. At one stop a woman admired my scarf, so I gave it to her and she in turn gave me a jar of homemade pickles.
At 2 p.m. on the dot, I dropped off my empty bags, debriefed and returned the list to be shredded. I would never consider driving for UberEats or Domino’s Pizza, but I would drive for Open Arms again. I need the comfort of a predetermined route, not the rush of calls and certainly not the requests to drive through Taco Bell at 2 a.m.