In her younger years, Town of Verona resident Karen Wolf saw firsthand the impact Meals on Wheels had on her grandparents.
Living in a “very small” town in southeastern Minnesota, the program enabled Wolf’s paternal grandparents to continue living at home – had the meals not been brought to them, she said, they might have lost some of their independence.
“My dad was always so impressed that the town provided Meals on Wheels,” she said. “So my dad, when he and mom were still alive here in downtown Madison, they, through Bethel Lutheran Church, delivered meals because of what the program did for his mom and dad.”
Wolf is carrying on the family tradition, now for the Belleville-based Sugar River Senior Center, and received a recognition during its Volunteer Appreciation Day for traveling the most miles while delivering meals for Town of Verona residents. She racked up 1,678 miles with her Jeep Compass in 2018 – close to 60 Meals on Wheels trips in one year.
“It’s an honor to be able to have my health in order to help somebody else,” she said. “They’re just so appreciative, and that makes me feel good because I’m making their life better.”
Maria Lamboley, volunteer coordinator for SRSC, said Wolf is a “vital” part of their Meals on Wheels program, as she picks up shifts for other drivers on a route that continues to get larger.
“She actually plays a huge role for us,” she said. “She always steps in and fills in when we need help … she has impacted us greatly.”
At least once a week, sometimes more when the senior center’s delivery volunteer staff is shorthanded, Wolf drives 4.5 miles to Dane County Consolidated Food Service, located on East Verona Avenue opposite the parking lot of Badger Prairie Needs Network, and picks up meals for around a dozen town residents.
Usually the meal delivery takes her an hour-and-a-half to complete, as her 28-mile route takes her all around the township.
This Tuesday, she walked into the kitchen of Dane County Consolidated Food Service to collect the delivery. While there, she filled her cooler with ice cream, placed brown bags labeled with the type of milk inside a reusable grocery bag and grabbed portable aluminum trays of Italian sausage on a bun, oven roasted potatoes and stewed tomatoes out of the warming unit.
During the trip, Wolf has eight stops, so while she records the minimum amount of mileage required for the deliveries, she takes the scenic route because “it doesn’t add too much time.”
Wolf has lived in the town for close to three decades, after she built her scenic Town of Verona home overlooking rolling hills and farm fields in October 1990 with her husband, Doug, who grew up on a dairy farm and wanted more space.
She’s been volunteering with the Sugar River Senior Center doing Meals on Wheels for almost five years.
In a good way, Wolf said, it feels like it’s been longer than that.
“It seems like I’ve known these people all my life,” she said. “It’s very rewarding.”
Wolf said she’s always enjoyed helping people, and delivering meals allows her to make contact with a population that might be more isolated and in need of human interaction.
“They’re so pleasant, and they’re delighted to see you,” she said. “It puts a smile on my face every time I do it.”
And if one of the people she’s delivering to needs a pick-me-up, Wolf has a go-to solution.
“A lot of times, when there’s ice cream for dessert, sometimes I’ll just take it out of my cooler and have it in my hand when I give them their brown bag and their hot meal … and I’ll joke, ‘Maybe you’ll want to eat it first,’” she said. “I try to get some humor into their life.”