“It’s so easy to help them,” says Leigh Bergstrom of the 400 or so homebound Indian River County residents who receive deliveries from Senior Resource Association’s Meals on Wheels. Twice a week, the Grand Harbor resident runs two of about 40 routes served by the program. Her routes comprise 16 people in the Gifford area—people she considers neighbors, as they live just a couple of miles away from her.
“I have nothing but time, so why not?” says the retired nurse, who moved to Vero Beach 12 years ago from her native Philadelphia. It amounts to about six hours per week, and Bergstrom points out that the commitment leaves her plenty of time to tend to all the other things she has to do. “It’s so rewarding!” she says.
Getting to know the people she visits is the greatest reward for Bergstrom. “I love my patients. I call them patients. They’re clients. That’s my nursing coming through!”
Bergstrom has been volunteering with Meals on Wheels for over three years; she is part of an army of 180 (in season) that fans out to the homes of elderly folks who may not otherwise have a hot meal—or, Bergstrom adds, much social interaction. “For a lot of my clients,” she says, “I’m the only person they see that day.”
This “senior-to-senior” outreach is important to Bergstrom, who points out that many of our retired residents “know what it’s like to be alone.”
Bergstrom’s love for Vero Beach, where her parents lived before her, is a powerful motivation for her service. “I live in the best place in the world … Vero is such a great little town,” she says, emphasizing how lucky we are to be here. “What we can do as a community—the smallest, littlest things—can make a big difference.”
Each visit is, in its own way, a special encounter. One lady on her route has a dog, and Bergstrom brings treats and spends a few minutes playing with the dog. One gentleman is a bit reclusive, but she has gradually built a rapport with him. Meals on Wheels drivers are not pushy; they enter a client’s home only if asked, and many pleasant interactions take place
on front porches. But the volunteers do ask their clients how they are doing and make general observations concerning their well-being. Most clients have a case manager, and if a driver notices anything troubling, he or she reports it for follow-up.
Bergstrom recounts an opportunity she once had to offer a little extra help to one of her clients—a frail, elderly lady named Judy, who had experienced a downgrade in her living circumstances. One of Bergstrom’s winter visits found a relocated Judy in a dwelling without even rugs to cover the bare cement floor. She was lacking warm clothing and asked “very sweetly” if SRA by any chance had a sweater or blanket. As it happened, Bergstrom was in the process of moving and had some sweaters, rugs, and even a few small pieces of furniture she was planning to donate to a thrift store. Judy received the items with joy and, on Bergstrom’s next visit, greeted her at the door looking quite pretty and showing off her “new” clothes. Bergstrom says she almost cried.
“They’re very grateful,” she says of her clients. “They’re sweet, sweet people who need a little help.”
But sometimes Leigh Bergstrom wonders who’s helping whom; “I’m sure I get more out of it than the small warm meal I give them.”