At 7:30 on the Friday morning before Thanksgiving, Chef Carl Cosby was in the kitchen off the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church Hall, going over the menu he had prepared for the day, and organizing ingredients.
Over the next several hours, he would prepare about 60 meals of cheese quiche, spinach, corn salad and a dessert of sliced fruit. Joined later by the Town’s Nutrition Site Manager Sara Mundy, and the kitchen aide, Alison Binder, they were a smoothly operating team, turning out meals for the sit-down Dinner Bell program for seniors later in the morning, and packing up home-delivered meals for the Meals On Wheels program.
As Chef Cosby sliced pie segments of the golden quiche quickly and expertly and placed them in segmented aluminum trays, Ms. Mundy was spooning in healthy portions of spinach, and Ms. Binder was placing containers of salad, slices of bread, plastic cups of juice and milk in insulated bags, ready for delivery.
“Quiche is definitely a favorite,” Chef Cosby said. “Right up there with shrimp scampi and stuffed flounder.”
“Meat loaf,” Ms. Binder said.
“Oh yes, meat loaf,” Ms. Mundy said, and the trio smiled.
Another favorite for sit-down dinners is brownies and marble cake for dessert, the chef said.
The Town’s Dinner Bell program, where meals are served in the Hall — brightly decorated for Thanksgiving — and Meals On Wheels are funded by The New York State Office for the Aging, Suffolk County and the Town, Ms. Mundy said. At the twice weekly sit-down meals, Ms. Mundy will make announcements, and provide information that, “I believe is helpful about activities throughout the week or the weekend at the Senior Center and the Library.”
There is also music, provided by Linda Betjeman at the piano, and sing-alongs.
The County provides strict nutritional guidelines, and Chef Cosby works to put together balanced, healthy meals, he said, without forgetting that they have to taste good and appeal to the folks receiving them. He has experience cooking for seniors, having worked as a dietary supervisor at a Southampton nursing home and at San Simeon in Southold.
Meals delivered to residences across the Island are often split in two by the recipients, Ms. Mundy said, with half for a midday meal and half later, providing a nutritional boost twice a day.
On The Road
In the church’s parking lot, Diane Anderson was chatting with Margaret Koller about a purple knitted headband Ms. Koller had given her. They were comparing notes on knits and perls when Chef Cosby came up with a large cooler and placed it in the back of Ms. Koller’s Volkswagen Tiguan. Ms. Anderson said goodbye, ready to make her run.
Meals On wheels would provide 33 meals today, by three different volunteers. All told, there are nine volunteer drivers in the program. Ms. Koller would have 10 stops, and travel about 25 miles on her run. Volunteers use their own vehicles and pay for their own gas, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Ms. Mundy said, simply, “They are the reason this program is able to work. We deliver through rain, snow, you name it.” She also noted that there are two main volunteers who help with the in-person meals served in the Hall.
Any senior can apply to get the service, Ms. Mundy said, but most are homebound, or can’t drive, and some, through dementia, disability or frailty, can’t cook.
Ms. Koller, who has been volunteering since 2016, took a clipboard with all her stops noted. She usually has the same route and sees the same folks. Putting the VW in gear, she turned onto North Ferry Road and said, “This is really more food for the soul than the body. Some of the people are starved for company.”
Asked why she volunteers, she paused, and said that, of course it is providing a needed service, but she also receives a benefit. “It makes me feel good, and I make connections, which is important.”
Individuals Within the Group
At her first stop on North Cartwright road, Ms. Koller took a meal from the cooler and put it in a basket, along with a flyer with information about the Thanksgiving dinner open to all — families included — at the Center Firehouse at 2 p.m., Thursday. (Sponsored by the Lions Club, the Fire Department and the Senior Center, those who need transportation to the Firehouse can call 631-749-1059 to arrange it, and to get more information. Those unable to come to the dinner will get deliveries.)
Audrey Norris and her home aide, Vinette Olinkiewicz, greeted Ms. Koller with smiles in Ms. Norris’ pleasant, well-kept living room and, after handing over the meal, she stayed to chat. Asked about the meals, Ms. Norris said they were “always good, really delicious.”
Visiting a few senior citizens at home, it immediately becomes clear that the elderly are not a homogeneous group, but individuals as varied as any demographic cohort.
You see homes that are dark, difficult to navigate because of cluttered doorways and rooms, either through hoarding, or not being able to clear and clean. And then there will be spotless places, open and light-filled.
Some folks don’t want to engage, and insist that the meals be left on porches or in garages, but almost all enjoy the frequent connection to Ms. Koller, a bright presence, who quietly questions them on how they’re doing.
“It’s not just about the food,” she said again, back behind the wheel, and it’s not just about personal contacts, but the visits are also well-being checks. Everyone involved in the program has a story, most of them recent encounters, where an elderly person has been helped.
Chef Cosby, filling in for a driver, recently knocked on a door and got no response. He kept at it until, “I heard the lady saying she had fallen.” She shouted the code to open the door — it took a while — and he finally gained access.
“She told me she’d been on the floor since the night before, but she seemed to be O.K,” he said. “I called a neighbor and then an ambulance. We had to convince her to go to the hospital, just to be safe.”
Driving through the Island, Ms. Koller now and then would note a place where she had once delivered meals, remembering the people she had come to know. They had, she said, either passed away, or gone to places where they could receive greater care. She hasn’t forgotten them.
At each stop, Ms. Koller was greeted as a friend with smiles, conversation and mild laughter. Peter Gulluscio met her at his front door on Midway Road. She asked if he had received the scarf she’d knitted for him. He said he had, and Ms. Koller told him the best way to knot it.
Asked how he was doing, Mr. Gulluscio said he was feeling all right. “I sleep really well,” he said.
He pointed across the road, saying that when he was a boy, there were 60 to 70 horses in the field. “Now if there’s one or two that’s a lot,” he said, and there was small talk about how times had changed.
As Ms. Koller said goodbye, Mr. Gulluscio said he was looking forward to the meal, and would see her soon.