I stumbled upon Kitchen Angels by accident.
In September, 2005, while still a student at the College of Santa Fe, I attended a volunteer-opportunity fair and stopped at a table manned by a person wearing an animal shelter T-shirt. I had planned to volunteer for the shelter, but it turned out that person was there talking to the actual proprietor of the table: Joy Martindill, administrative associate of Kitchen Angels.
It was a Friday; I started volunteering the following Monday and, every Monday night since, I've deliver hot meals on the Southside to between five and eight people.
My two-hour route is easy in the warmer months. I drive with the windows down, listen to music, visit with friendly people while the smell of amazing food wafts through my car. It starts to get a little difficult once the days start getting shorter. By the time November hits, it's usually sunset when I pick up my meals in the afternoon, and it's pitch-black even before I reach Calle Atajo. The Southside can be really dark at night. A lot of the new subdivisions don't have streetlamps. More than once I've had nightmares of being caught off-guard by an undesirable in one of the less-friendly apartment complexes.
But I like my Southside route, mostly for the people. There is one person who has been on my route for all three years that I have been volunteering. Alan (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) lives alone in a trailer park off Airport Road. He is always polite, smiles, thanks me, we banter about the weather and…the weather, and then I leave.
Alan isn't old; I'd peg him at about 40, 45 at most. He's never told me explicitly why he is homebound, and I haven't asked. A few times he didn't answer the door when I knocked, so I peeked inside. His home is impeccable. It is clear, though, that he doesn't have much money; he possesses the tidiness that often comes with austerity.
Alan caught me off guard one day when he called me by name. I had gotten so used to our routine—hello, weather, thanks, goodbye—that it was a great surprise when I opened his gate and he began cheering, "Char-lotte! Char-lotte!"
It's a small thing to be called by name. Most days, I'd rather not hear my name, simply for what it's followed by. It's probably just my boyfriend calling to ask where the peanut butter has disappeared to, a co-worker asking if I'm done with the project I was supposed to have finished last week. But for Alan, it was a big thing—both to hear his own name spoken and to speak mine. He told me one cold day, as he gripped his winter coat around him and we stood on his porch, that I'm the only person he sees all day most Mondays.
The basic task of a Kitchen Angels driver is to deliver hot meals to homebound people all over Santa Fe. The broader task of a Kitchen Angel is much harder to describe. It doesn't simply end with delivering a meal to someone who can't often leave home. For the people we help, we're someone to check in on them once a day to make sure everything's OK. We become friends. By coming right to their door with a delivery, we bring them an ounce of humanity that they may not see otherwise.
Sometimes, in wintertime, it isn't easy to finish my route. If I get lost or have a late start or find a stray dog while I'm driving (that's happened more times than I can count), I'm often driving around Tierra Contenta until it's cold enough that I can't feel my nose. Each time I get out of the car on a cold, dark night, I can practically see puffs of precious heat escaping through the driver's side door, then again out the trunk when I open the hatch to get out the brown bag. On the worst nights (remember last winter when we had a full month of temperatures in the teens?) it takes me a moment to warm my tingling hands in front of the vents 'til they can grasp the wheel at all. As I drive from one destination to the next on especially cold nights, I sometimes can't imagine doing it again the next week; Mondays are bad enough without having to be out an extra couple hours.
The thought that most convinces me to do it again is of Alan opening his soup container. Like being called by name, it's a small thing: the steam of warm soup. But I like to think the soup will help him tonight—feed him, yes, but also let him know he's not alone.
1222 Siler Road