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Leading by Example: The Impact of Volunteering for Home-Delivered Meals

By Cyndy Dunn | 09/22/2021

A meal delivery to an older adult in need

Cyndy Dunn is a past chair and current member of the Board of Directors for Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and the chair of the Rose Centers for Aging Well subsidiary board. She is the current Board Chair of GroundWorks Dance Theater. She recently retired from Judson Services, Inc., where she served as President and CEO for 27 years. 

I had listened to Dabney Conwell, the Executive Director of the Rose Centers for Aging Well (RCAW) at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, give presentations explaining Nutrition Solution, the new medically tailored meals program, designed to address dietary restrictions and provide important good nutrition for those in need who have been discharged from a hospital stay. Of course, the Medicaid insurance program was very interested, as this program could go a long way in preventing rehospitalizations. I thought, “good program, good for Benjamin Rose, there is a definite need, makes sense.”

What was missing in the early stages of the program was a reliable system to get the meals to the clients. We could add these additional meals to some of the routes we already ran for Benjamin Rose’s existing home-delivered meals program, but there were a number of growing “outliers” who did not live within the boundaries of an established route. Benjamin Rose staff was stepping up to the plate, but this was keeping them from doing their main jobs. The call went out for volunteers. “Please give us one or two three/four sessions once or twice a month and that would be a huge help”:  I heard this appeal several times before I said to myself, “lead by example.”

I can hardly ask over and over at our Rose Centers Board meetings for volunteers if I’m not willing to offer myself. My husband enthusiastically volunteered to join me in delivering meals. I am a big fan of the two-person tag team so one is helping with navigating, managing addresses and pulling the right meal coded by dietary requirement, while the other can call ahead to the next client and stay with the car to avoid parking challenges.

Everyone gets one hot meal and three frozen meals, plus 5 cartons of milk and a bag of cold food (like fruit, bread and condiments). Coolers are supplied, and we were also given a route plan that organizes our travels in an efficient sequence and provides client phone numbers and addresses.  
Clients are racially and ethnically very diverse, with some clearly relying on their caregiver to accept meals on their behalf. Some are not native English speakers, but their genuine smiles conveyed their message of appreciation. To date, we only had one incident of a client not being home to accept their meal.

This program is no longer something I’ve only read about or heard about. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and being in that picture is an “awakening”.  I have a whole new appreciation for the work we do at Benjamin Rose, and the people we are reaching with the medically tailored meals program. There is a need.  And that need is not just a statistic. It is an address, a house, a neighborhood and, most importantly, it is a person who is often looking tired but appreciative.


As mentioned, our medically tailored meal program often involves "outliers" in many ways—geographically, socioeconomically, health status and socially isolated to name the obvious.  These folks, although part of our greater Cleveland community, are often worn down by the negative impact of living with the effects of inadequate resources throughout their lives.  We are about helping people age well and that begins before they are "old".  Aging well is a community commitment towards providing equal opportunities and access to all.


This volunteer experience opened my eyes and conscience and led me to want to do more. Whether it is through governance work that allocates our resources to supporting programs, policies, and research, and/or the hands-on work that gives witness to the outcomes of our governance, it is work that strengthens our community by reaching those 'outliers" and offering them inclusion through our acknowledgement and support of their needs.

I have discovered neighborhoods and communities that I never knew existed.  Many portray poverty and all that implies, including food deserts after food deserts—locations where there is limited access to affordable and nutritious food. These neighborhoods scream that there are so many people in need.  What we are doing at Benjamin Rose is important, but the need continues to be so great!

If you live in the Greater Cleveland area and are interested in getting involved in meal delivery, you can visit to learn more about our volunteer opportunities, or fill out the below form to apply.


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