Crown Center Home Delivery Volunteers

Volunteers: (clockwise, from top left) Saul Dien, Lauren Sagel, Larry Harris, Geri Frank (former vounteer and now Crown Center staff member), Allen Silverberg, Lana Yunker, Gloria Spitzer, Lois Lefton and Marilyn Dien. Lisa Silverberg and Shawn Rimerman are not pictured. Photo: Lisa Mandel

By Susan Fadem, Special to the Jewish Light

The value of a meal is sometimes measured by peace of mind. Just ask the University City resident in his 80s who cares for his wife. Also an octogenarian, she has Alzheimer’s disease and, along with memory loss, often stares vacantly at her food.

That’s why it was with particular gratitude that one day, the husband reported: “My wife ate the entire corned-beef sandwich that was delivered and the side dishes, too.”

The couple are clients of the Kosher Home Delivery Meal Program at Crown Center for Senior Living. Weekdays year-round, volunteers — many seniors themselves — drive kosher meals freshly prepared at Crown Center to University City-area residents living east of Interstate 170.

Other local programs deliver meals elsewhere in the community. But the kosher niche is a special one for Crown Center’s minyan-size group of Jewish home-delivery volunteers. 

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Mondays through Fridays, these 10 Unsung Heroes deliver one typically hot meal daily to up to 20 recipients. Frozen meals can be included for weekends and holidays. On any given month, these volunteers may deliver 350 to 400 kosher meals to homes and apartments. 

Late afternoon on two days each month, volunteer Gloria Spitzer, 82, drives to Crown Center in University City. There, the Congregation B’nai Amoona member heads for the kitchen to pick up seven or eight insulated sacks containing the just-fixed kosher dinners she’s assigned to deliver to addresses within a radius of a few miles.

Once she carries the sacks to her car, Spitzer often calls ahead on her cell phone to let recipients know she’s on her  way. This gives many of them time to begin the journey to their door or front porch. 

Spitzer, of Crystal Lake Park, has never forgotten one recipient. 

“He was the sweetest man I ever met,” she said. “Every time I would deliver a meal, he would say, ‘God bless you.’ He meant it.”

As a respite from other duties, a caregiver, spouse or other family member may receive a meal, too. Florence Schachter, Crown Center’s director of resident and community services, said that if people are giving care 24/7, providing a delivered meal is to give them comfort, too.

Nikki Goldstein, the center’s executive director, and some of her staff know first-hand what it means to bring dinner.

“We have delivered meals in the past,” she says. “It’s more than just dropping off the meal. It’s connecting to the person.”

The suggested donation, often paid monthly by check, is $3 per meal. 

Food, after all, is a necessity. Without proper nutrition, health may plummet. Depression and other illnesses might set in. Home-delivered meals, the volunteers realize, can help some seniors maintain their independence and remain longer in their homes.

Kosher-meal recipients are generally age 60 or older and housebound. They may have limited mobility, lack adequate transportation or have trouble cooking for themselves.

Robert Rimerman, the father of volunteer Shawn Rimerman, 56, was a kosher butcher who owned nearby Oakbrook Kosher Meats. Shawn Rimerman, a Shaare Emeth member and Creve Coeur resident, says that by delivering meals, he pays tribute to the important people in his life who came before him.

Many of Crown Center’s delivery volunteers speak affectionately of a 100-plus-year-old recipient who passed away earlier this year. In a time when sweat clothes and pajamas with elastic waistbands often pass for everyday attire, this gentleman routinely wore a handsome sweater or a jacket. 

“He represented the old European style that’s gone forever,” says volunteer Larry Harris, 65, of Brentwood. 

Talking with the recipient, Harris would insert a couple of words in German, a couple in Hebrew. 

“It’s like delivering food to your grandparents,” he says.

The home-delivered kosher meals, identical in content to those served weekdays at Crown Center, are democratically conceived. In its dining room, the center serves some 250-300 meals weekly.

Hungry for grilled chicken with peanut sauce, brown rice pilaf, broccoli Normandy veggies and cranberry applesauce? Craving barbecue-beef sliders with sweet-and-sour cabbage soup, corn pudding, fresh orange slices and a wheat roll? Can’t imagine dinner without apple strudel or peach cobbler?

Then suggest it, Crown Center residents are advised. 

“We have a menu meeting every three months so they can have input into what they’d like to see,” explains Geri Frank, a former home-delivery volunteer who works part time at the center overseeing volunteer drivers and their routes.

Because the center’s meal program is funded by Mid-East Area Agency on Aging, Jewish Federation and the Crown Center, the nutritional content of each meal must meet dietary guidelines. Fine-tuning recipes and their preparation falls to Jon Rubin, the center’s on-site caterer.

Famous not only for the taste but for the aroma of the challah rolls he bakes on Fridays, Rubin knows, too, that while diners enjoy his grilled hamburgers on buns, it’s the grilled onions on top they truly relish.

Menus are published monthly in Crown Connection, the senior center newsletter, which is also mailed to at-home recipients. In this way, seniors may select favorite meals and single out days for deliveries.

Picking and choosing can have a more profound impact. 

“It’s giving them some power in their lives, some control,” says Schachter, the head of Crown’s resident and community services.

Similarly, deliveries involve more than just dropping off meals. They are also an important point of contact, and the volunteers look for signs the recipient may need additional assistance. 

Does it take longer than usual for a senior to answer an “I’m on my way” phone call or a volunteer’s knock on the door? Does the recipient seem unusually disoriented? Is anything else out of the ordinary?

Before seniors join the home-delivery program, an assessment visit is required. Emergency phone numbers are given. According to health department regulations, a meal cannot be delivered if no one is there to receive it. In such cases, volunteers coordinate with Crown Center to make every effort to deliver a meal. They will sometimes return to a recipient’s home at the end of their route before taking unclaimed meals back to Crown Center.

And regardless of whether a volunteer is regularly invited in by recipients, he or she learns quickly to take stock. In case of an emergency, someone may need to summon an ambulance or medical attention. Crown Center may offer additional home-health referrals.

While sensing the importance of perhaps being, at least on occasion, the only person a recipient sees on a givenday, volunteers also take pleasure in their mission. 

“I like helping people, seeing their smiles, brightening their day. They brighten my day,” says Central Reform Congregation member Lauren Sagel, 42. A recent returnee with her family to St. Louis, she lives in the Central West End.

For Shaare Emeth member Lana Yunker, 64, of Ladue, delivering meals is, in part, a chance to “role model” for the next generation. Yunker often brings along her three grandsons, ages 10, 8 and 3.

Lois Lefton, 68, of University City, who keeps kosher and belongs to Agudas Israel Synagogue, expresses unhesitant satisfaction with the meal program. 

“I love delivering,” she says.

Since her husband is a master of “honey-do” tasks,Marilyn Dien, 81, put meal delivery on his list. Saul Dien, 85, now volunteers, too. 

“A balanced meal can give a better quality of life,” Marilyn Dien says. Olivette residents, the Diens belong to Kol Rinah.

Allan and Lisa Silverberg of Clayton, both 69 and members of Shaare Emeth, are “a good team,” Allan Silverberg says. The couple deliver meals together. 

“A few I’ve developed a special relationship with,” he says of the recipients. “I look forward to seeing them, and I’d like to think vice versa. We feel very blessed that we can help them.”

In a recent survey of at-home kosher-meal recipients, 95 percent said their delivered meals were the main meals of the day; 100 percent rated the volunteers “friendly and courteous.” 

As with any program that receives government funding, delivery of kosher meals can get complicated. 

“It’s a lot of work. It’s dealing with bureaucracy,” Schachter says. “So why do we do this? Because we know what rachmones is. It’s compassion.” 

It’s giving recipients an extra reason to get dressed, have a chat to look forward to, a hand to shake, maybe a hug. 

“It’s also providing dignity,” Schachter says.

For information on becoming a kosher-meal delivery volunteer or recipient, call 314-991-2055.

Crown Center Home Delivery Volunteers

Volunteers: Marilyn and Saul Dien, Lauren Sagel, Larry Harris, Geri Frank, Lisa and Allen Silverberg, Lana Yunker, Gloria Spitzer, Lois Lefton and Shawn Rimerman.

More information on volunteering or receiving meals: For information on becoming a kosher-meal delivery volunteer or recipient, call Crown Center at 314-991-2055.