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Caring for Friends volunteer works to ease the burden on a veteran

Philadelphia native Rich served in Korea during the Korean War. He came back to Philadelphia and found employment with Melraft Gasket Company at Richmond and Tioga Streets in Philadelphia, where he worked for 30 years, cutting material for the presses and making gaskets for cars. At age 46, his back gave out, and he went on disability. He returned to work after a year, but a hard sneeze reinjured his back and put an end to his career. The extent of Rich’s disability meant that he was not physically able to clean his house.

Fortunately, Caring for Friends volunteer Joe Palermo is a super trooper—he has been a Caring for Friends volunteer visitor since 2016 and has already served as visitor to 7 homebound clients.

“What a relief it must be to have someone like Joe, a gentle and accepting soul, stop by on a reliable schedule, to break the silence and bring a big bag full of delicious home-cooked dinners and soups,” said Steven Schiavone, Caring for Friends Executive Director.

“I knew things weren’t going well for Rich,” Steven said.

The small living room was very cluttered, but there was a pathway that snaked to the right, leaving a clear area between an old hospital bed and the sofa where Rich was sitting. Beside him were a round tin and a large zip lock bag, both overflowing with pill bottles. His right calf and foot were wrapped with gauze and then overwrapped with an Ace bandage. His left foot and calf were swollen, with dry and deeply cracked skin that was a dark purplish color near the ankle. Joe stood beside the bed.

“What a relief it must be to have someone like Joe, a gentle and accepting soul, stop by on a reliable schedule, to break the silence and bring a big bag full of delicious home cooked dinners and soups.”

–Steven Schiavone, Caring for Friends Executive Director

“Have a seat,” Rich said, with a slight gesture toward the small upholstered chair to his left. “It was covered with papers and other stuff, so Joe cleared a small area near the seat’s edge. When he sat down, Joe said he was careful not to lean back to avoid damaging any of the items resting there,” said Steven, relaying details of Joe’s first meeting with Rich.

Rich had been a widower since 2008 when his wife Ruthie suffered complications following a massive heart attack.

Rich’s own health continued to deteriorate. Severe pain in his leg led to back surgery for a herniated disc, when doctors accidentally severed a nerve. Rich subsequently had a heart attack and had also developed diabetes.

“I felt bad for Rich. He’d lost his wife, his living conditions were poor, and he had some serious health issues,” Steven said. Rich endured more personal tragedy when his daughter died of a drug overdose after overdrawing his bank account, leaving him with no family and unable to pay his bills.

“Having a volunteer visitor like Joe Palermo gave Rich the help he needed at a time when he needed it most. Joe didn’t just bring nourishing, homemade meals; he offered friendship and bonded with Rich over everyday happenings,” Steven said.

Just as Joe and Steven were talking about getting Rich to agree to a clean-up team, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) sent one in.

Unfortunately, Rich passed away the same year Joe started visiting and delivering meals to him.

“I want to thank Joe for visiting Rich and reducing his isolation during the last year of his life,” Steven said. “Joe now has 2 new clients, or friends. I’m sure that whatever burdens they bear seem lighter when Joe stops by to visit.”

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.

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