(This story was first published in the February 20, 2014 edition of the Standard.)
By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
HARTLAND — Jim Lawrence arrived to each doorstep with a warm meal and a smile. As people, some in a a wheelchair, some with a breathing tank, came out to greet him, he shook their hands or talked about the brisk weather. That exchange lasted only a few minutes — but was Lawrence’s favorite part of his weekly routine.
“Just that 2-3 minutes — it’s so robust,” he said. “It’s how much that few minutes offers in the sense of good feeling for the day.”
Lawrence, 67, delivers a warm meal to people who are diabetic, wheelchair bound or who can’t get outside, three times a week. He leaves from his house in Hartland and drives to Windsor and then makes his way back.
On Monday, the Meals on Wheels driver had 18 deliveries to make in Windsor and Hartland. The back of his Subaru was packed with a case of hot meals and a box of paper bags filled with bread or dessert.
Jim Lawrence, of Hartland, delivers food to Everett Wood’s home in Windsor.
Rick Russell Photo
“You get to know each person quite well,” he said. “You feel like you’re not just delivering that person a meal, you’re delivering that person a sense of family, in a way, and a feeling that we care for each other.”
That’s the biggest reward for him.
Lawrence worked as an X-ray technician for 25 years at the VA Medical Center before he retired in 2005. He still gets to see the some of the people he worked with every week.
Mary Kelley, 90, used to work just around the corner from Lawrence at the White River VA. He gathered her mail for her on Monday before bringing her warm beef and vegetables. He spent the weekend shoveling snow off her roof.
“He helps me in anyway he possibly can,” she said. “He’s just a plain sweetheart is all he is.”
Lawrence and his wife also volunteer for Aging in Hartland, the Hartland Christmas Project, the Community Thanksgiving Dinner and Hartland Roast Beef Suppers.
Volunteering has taught Lawrence about life. He’s learned from people that have lived longer than him and who have more experience.
“The gain is understanding where I am in life and better understanding and appreciating the opportunities I’ve had,” he said.
Lawrence started volunteering after he retired, but he needed to after he lost his 21-year-old son in a car accident just around the corner from his house seven years ago.
His son, Jamie died in 2006 after his car rolled over and hit a tree, Lawrence said.
Lawrence passes by the tree that killed his son everyday on his Meals on Wheels route.
“It never changes as far as the hurt and what you realize you’re missing,” he said.
Volunteering helped him through the sadness, he said.
“Volunteering was a way for me to give back and to do something that felt good, that felt like I was a contributing something,” he said. “It probably was also a distraction for some time, channeling your thoughts and your energy in other ways because a loss like that never goes away.”
After Jamie died, Lawrence’s family organized a charity basketball tournament. Money that was raised was donated toward building a new outdoor basketball court at the Hartland Recreation Center.
The Lawrences held the basketball tournament every year until 2013. Lawrence said he felt in his heart that it was time to stop. * On Monday, each of the bags in the back seat of Lawrence’s car had a name and number coordinated to the person he was delivering meals to. He knew things about each person — who their family was and what they liked to do for fun.
Lawrence also knew who liked to have their doorbell rang and who liked him to walk right in. Sometimes people waited at the door in anticipation of their hot meal arriving. Others went outside to greet him.
“He’s always positive and upbeat and friendly,” said Joann Houghton of Windsor, whose husband has been receiving meals ever since a kidney transplant.
“It takes the pressure off of me,” she said.
Volunteers deliver about 300 different meals a week on six different routes in Windsor, Hartland and West Windsor.
Sometimes, Lawrence is the only person the recipients see all day.
“He really cares about the people that he delivers to,” said Dietary Supervisor Sandy Anderson, who has been cooking the meals for 30 years. “You can just tell about some people and he is one of them who truly cares about people. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Jim Lawrence picks up warm meals in Windsor to deliver to homes in Hartland.
Rick Russell Photo