, Salem, MA

Local News

January 9, 2014

More than just a meal

Program's drivers brave ice, snow, bitter cold to feed elderly

PEABODY — It’s the mailman who supposedly can’t be stopped by snow, rain, sleet or gloom of night. But Ken Webster, who delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors in Peabody, thinks some other people belong in that category.

At age 70, and facing freezing weather, snowstorms, ice patches, and uncleared walks and driveways, he straps on his boots for a mission he and his colleagues take very seriously.

“We’ll traipse over the snow. We’ve taken falls,” he says. “But it’s one of those things. It’s like the mail — it’s got to get through.”

In Peabody alone that means delivering nearly 300 meals a day prepared at Peter Torigian Community Life Center. Other local communities do the same. Beverly, for example, sends out 250 meals a day. Drivers often earn a modest stipend, but finding people willing to do the work is a constant problem.

Former Peabody Mayor Mike Bonfanti, a regular observer at the Torigian Center, thinks the operation by Council on Aging Director Carolyn Wynn and coordinator Sandra Cloutman is “top shelf.” And the work couldn’t be more important, he adds, in the midst of what has already been a bitter winter.

“They go out in rough weather,” Wynn says of the approximately 10 drivers who work in Peabody. “We purchased these grippers for them (slip-on footwear).”

In the course of a year, the Peabody program dispenses more than 100,000 meals. Prior to the most recent storm, drivers carried multiple meals, hot and cold, for each client, so no one would go hungry if the weather forced a shutdown.

Webster, who retired as a vice president of the Marriot Corporation 10 years ago, has been part of the program, working five days a week, ever since. The importance of this task transcends food delivery, he explains. “Sometimes, we’re the only ones these people see all day. We end up talking to them.”

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