Philadelphia-based Caring for Friends is like a 3-legged stool. One leg is the roughly 2,000 homebound clients; the second leg is an army of volunteer cooks who prepare and freeze dinners for them; and the third leg, which is the connecting link—the more than 1,000 volunteer visitors who deliver the meals and much-needed company.
Anne McGoldrick, age 45 and a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jenkintown, is one of the visitors who not only delivers food, but also provides a social link for people who generally do not have many visitors. She was introduced to Caring for Friends 6 years ago through a presentation at her parish.
“I signed up to be a visitor,” she said. “They told me they had a woman who was 90 years old, she had a fall and now she was going back to her home in Holy Redeemer Village, would I like to take her meals.”
She’s been visiting Mary Brownell ever since. Mary is a widow, and has been a resident of Holy Redeemer Village, an independent living facility for the elderly in Huntingdon Valley, for 26 years.
“I’ve been visiting her for 6 years now,” Anne said. “Sometimes I haven’t gone every week because of work. I would fit it in around my travel schedule, and I have been taking my young nephew there since he was a baby.”
In addition to visiting Mary, Anne sometimes fills in by visiting other homebound clients when needed.
Anne has also been Caring for Friends intake coordinator for Delaware County. In this capacity she visits people who have been suggested for the services of Caring for Friends, determines their eligibility, and assesses whatever other needs they might have. She works with Eileen Brophy, another volunteer who coordinates visitors and between them they see to it that basically everyone who needs Caring for Friends is enrolled in the program and served.
“It has been eye-opening for me,” Anne said. “I get 4 or 5 calls a week and the majority of them do qualify. We get people who were doing well in their house, but after a hospitalization preparing meals is a real challenge for them. I think the original idea of [Caring for Friends] was people who have nobody. We do have people like that, but we get a lot of people who have family not near them.”
Once a person is put in the program, they stay on indefinitely, she explains, saying, “As long as they need the program, we are there for them.”
–Ann McGoldrick, volunteer cook and visitor
As a matter of fact, Mary’s son Charlie does other shopping for her and she also has a niece who helps her, but there is no one to prepare meals on a daily basis.
Anne’s relationship with Mary has gone far beyond visitation.
“Generally speaking, when you are a visitor you just pick up meals made by somebody else and you deliver them,” Anne said. “In a practical sense—and I know it happens with other people too—I tend to make most of her meals myself.”
“She is Polish and likes Polish food. She likes dark meat, she likes pierogi. Sometimes I’ll bring her little buns for her coffee, and she likes candy. It brings it alive and my family and my neighbors help me too. Although she is 96, Mary is sharp as a tack, but cooking would be too much for her.”
For her part, Mary considers Anne her best friend.
“I look forward to her visits,” Mary said. “She is a good person and she is busy, but still gives her time.”
This story was written by Lou Baldwin and originally appeared on CatholicPhilly.com. It has been modified from its original version.
Caring for Friends, formerly Aid for Friends, is a Philadelphia-area nonprofit with a network of volunteers who deliver meals and offer friendship to seniors and other isolated individuals across the greater Philadelphia region.