Every Friday Margaret Matke gives up her lunch hour at Naperville’s TriZetto Group, a software company, to deliver meals to several seniors in the area as part of Meals on Wheels.
She is just one of many people making a difference for the almost 4,000 people older than 60 who the DuPage Senior Citizens Council helps in some way during the year.
“I wanted to see if I could be of service to the community even if it’s where I work and not where I live,” said Matke, who works in customer support for TriZetto.
It was 12 years ago that she and several co-workers started delivering meals to the seniors. Part of their on-going work also is making sure the clients are doing well because many don’t have family nearby.
“It’s important for people to know that many seniors live in homes by themselves or with a caretaker,” Matke said, knowing she often is the only personal contact the person might have in a day.
Marylin Krolak, the executive director of the council, said that 80 percent of the seniors live 125 percent below the poverty line.
And while family members live out of state for some, others refuse to reach out to their families.
“They have pictures all over the mantle of nieces and nephews, yet they are calling us for a home repair or meal because they say their family is too busy,” Krolak said.
Recently, one woman left her boots on all weekend, even sleeping on her couch, because she couldn’t reach down to remove them, until someone from the council arrived to deliver a meal.
Other times seniors need help changing a light bulb or other task most take for granted.
While the well-being checks are only done when a volunteer is performing another service for the senior (such as delivering a meal or doing a home repair), the council is looking to make the checks a separate program for people who might be concerned about an aging senior who lives alone.
In 2013, the council performed 175,000 well-being checks.
According to Cathy Jordan, the council’s volunteer director, each time a meal is delivered, the volunteers will ask the seniors how they are doing.
“As people age, it’s important that people get a good meal and make sure they are safe,” she said.
“The most important thing our volunteers do is observe and report back to the site manager.”
Because more people are staying in their homes as they age, the well-being check program that is being formalized will grow in importance.
And the council always will need volunteers.
“In the economic downturn, we had a huge influx of people (because they found themselves unemployed),” Jordan said.
“While we are happy they are getting jobs, we also are losing volunteers.”
Some people volunteer as a means to put experience on their resumes.
The council also gets volunteers in the summer from the National Charity League. Women in the club who delivered meals with their mothers growing up want to share the experience with their daughters.
Some volunteer opportunities are long-term, such as Matke and her co-workers making sure that several seniors get their meals five days a week. But others aren’t.
The council also has chore days the first three weekends in May and November. Volunteers do yard work at the homes of seniors who can’t afford to pay for a service to do it for them.
“If we don’t care for the elderly, what kind of society are we?” Krolak asked. “It’s cheaper (to do a well check) than to send out the firemen.”
For Matke, it’s about knowing she has made a small difference in the lives of several people each Friday.
“At least it makes me feel good,” she said.