Join me, Ellie Arnold, Marketing Program Assistant, as I experience my first Meals on Wheels volunteer route with an amazing couple who renewed my love for what Milestone does in the communities we serve.
In December, shortly before the Christmas Holiday, I had the pleasure of riding on a Meals on Wheels route for the first time with two wonderful volunteers, Bonnie and Dennis Banghart. I had an incredible time and got to see firsthand the impact that these volunteers and the Meals on Wheels program have on Milestone Senior Services clients.
As the Marketing Programs Assistant, I started with Milestone during the pandemic and had not been able to see many of our programs in action. I knew the impact Milestone had on our clients was great, but I quickly learned from this experience that simply hearing what we do for people in no way gives justice to seeing it first-hand. I was incredibly inspired by Bonnie and Dennis, our Meals on Wheels clients, and the impact that this program has on the communities we serve.
Volunteers, Bonnie and Dennis Banghart, have lived in Kalamazoo most of their lives and have become well recognized in the community. They have been together for 56 years and have 5 children and 10 grandchildren. Dennis shared that all their grandchildren have joined them on a Meals on Wheels route at one time or another. They would draw pictures for the clients, which according to Dennis, the clients always loved.
Both Bonnie and Dennis were educators in Kalamazoo schools and there developed a drive to help people in the community through their experiences. Bonnie noticed a need in her years as an educator. “You thought certain things were being taken care of in the community, but they were not. My job in mental health, way back starting in 1984, opened my eyes to a lot of gaps in services, and the awareness of the elderly around us who were quite alone,” she says. But their desire to volunteer began well before their careers in education. Dennis began volunteering back in his college days while he was in a service fraternity, saying that it made him want to help even more people. They have also both been highly active in their church and can still recall one of their first memories of volunteering there years ago. Today, as they have gotten older, they have even taken time to help friends.“We both do a fair amount of helping our friends who are not as blessed to have as good of health as we do. We can help, so we do,” says Bonnie. Service certainly runs deep with the Bangharts.
After they retired from their full-time work in 2004, they wanted to give their time to the community more frequently, so they began volunteering with Meals on Wheels every Friday. Since then, they have missed very few days outside of the occasional vacation. They even continued to volunteer throughout the pandemic. “We didn’t miss a beat,” says Bonnie when it came to volunteering during the pandemic. And they do all this together, as a team. “We both just feel we have time to give, and this was a way for us to have a commitment and routine, "says Bonnie. “It is something we do together and there is never a question on whether or not we are going to do it.”
On the morning of my first Meals on Wheels experience, I arrived at Milestone Senior Services around 10:00 a.m. to meet up with Bonnie and Dennis. While Dennis packed the car, Bonnie went over the usual routine for their route and explained their system. Typically, Bonnie strategically packs meals in the back of their truck according to the drop-off order and Dennis drives. Then at each home, Bonnie hands off the meals to him so he can greet the clients and successfully deliver their meal. After so many years of volunteering, they have it down to a science.
After the car was loaded with meals, we were off! Their route includes about 15 homes and Bonnie and Dennis have a story behind each one and the clients who reside there. Dennis said that after all these years delivering meals to them, he no longer considers them clients but instead friends. "You meet a lot of neat people, and you really get to know them. That's part of our problem, we are always the last ones back because we like to talk,” says Dennis. The Bangharts have been there for countless birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones. They have been there to help clients through emergency situations, and unfortunately have seen clients come and go over the years.
Each client throughout the trip was delighted and ready at the door to see their weekly visitors. It was not just about the meal, they looked forward to those quick, or not so quick, bits of company and conversation that Bonnie and Dennis offered them. It seemed like each person we encountered knew something about them. This friendship was clearly not one sided. I asked if I could take some photos of them with clients along the route, and without hesitation the Banghart's and clients were eager to be photographed together- them with the clients they have come to care for, and the clients with their favorite volunteers.
After delivering our last meal, we headed back to Milestone, and true to form, were the last ones back for the day. When Bonnie, Dennis, and I said our goodbyes, it brought tears to my eyes. It became so clear to me that our volunteers and this Meals on Wheels program truly do deliver more than just a meal. The care that the Bangharts have for each of their clients is truly admirable. Anyone who has had the luxury to know them would say the same thing. They are exactly what you would want in a volunteer: thoughtful, energetic, fun, caring, kind, generous, patient, and so much more.
Meals on Wheels is available to individuals who are 60 years and older or those 18 and up with disabilities. If you reside in Kalamazoo or Calhoun County and struggle to prepare delicious meals independently, then Meals on Wheels can help you. With Meals on Wheels, you can receive up to 2 meals a day, 7 days a week. If you qualify to receive Meals on Wheels and are interested in applying, please visit our website at milestoneseniorservices.org/meals.