Finding community in volunteering

Meals on Wheels volunteer Cordelia Henderson

April is National Volunteer Month. Thanks to the thousands of volunteers who make Meals on Wheels possible!

Last summer, Cordelia Henderson felt like something was missing. Living alone during the pandemic, she wasn’t feeling as connected to her community as she would like. Then she saw a post online about a need for Meals on Wheels volunteers and knew what she had to do.

“I was at home here in my apartment building and I was feeling kind of lonely,” recalled Cordelia. “I used to do volunteer work at a clothing ministry. I needed to find something else to get involved with.”

Cordelia, who lives in downtown Minneapolis, dove right into volunteering with her neighborhood Meals on Wheels program at Community Emergency Service (CES). It’s a regular part of her week now.

She delivers the same route twice a week in North Minneapolis, and she’s on call for other days of the week if she doesn’t have another commitment.

“It’s been such an experience,” she says. “I wish you could see their faces when you bring their meals. I have a few folks where I try to make them the last ones because I know they like to talk.”

At a time where more volunteers have been needed as they’ve transitioned back to daily deliveries, Cordelia’s efforts have been indispensable, say Melanie LaPointe and Linda Velez who both work to coordinate volunteers at CES.

“Cordelia has been awesome,” Melanie says. “She’s been really good about showing up when we’re short on drivers.”

On developing connections through caring for others

Cordelia worked for years as a nurse before transitioning to a career as an assembly worker at Honeywell in the early nineties and has been retired for a few years. She raised six children, four of whom still live in the area and she sees regularly.

She’s always taken pride in caring for others, including being the primary caregiver for her adult daughter, Tammy, who passed away in 2017 due to complications from lead poisoning. “She’s my inspiration for doing Meals on Wheels,” says Cordelia.

Even though her family is near, she feels a strong pull to connect with others. Cordelia says delivering meals allows her to exercise her passion for caregiving and get to know the people on her routes (names have been changed to protect the privacy of the recipient):

“I’ve developed a close connection with Dennis. He used to live in Alaska and he tells me all the stories about how cold it is. He just has so many hilarious winter stories.”

“Lisa’s on oxygen. She’s always sitting there waiting in the window for me. She says, ‘You just brighten up my day.’”

“I delivered many times to Michele and left the meals in a cooler at her door. Then one day, I hear ‘You sure look nice today!’ She has one of those cameras on her doorbell! Now I make sure to pull down my mask so she can see my face when I drop off the meal.”

Cordelia says every day on her route has been a joy. “You see people go from one stage to a better stage. The frowns just turn to smiles. I love my people I deliver to. I just love them to death.”

Opportunities to deliver meals exist throughout the Twin Cities, with programs needing extra help as they continue to serve a record number of individuals. You can sign up to volunteer here. You can also support the work of Meals on Wheels volunteers through a donation.

Click to learn more about Meals on Heels 2024