Every holiday when I was growing up we were sent out with plates of food for neighbors and friends who were spending it alone and couldn’t cook a holiday meal. My grandma would load up the food and my cousins and I became a small army of soldiers-combating hunger, and more appropriately loneliness, in our own way. Grandma made these plates before her own and was adamant we take them out before eating our family feast.

Our first stop was the tiny woman who lived in the pink stucco cottage, just beyond the garden and thorny blackberry bushes, next door to my grandparents. We would trudge through the yard in snow, rain, or blustering winds, ring the bell and bound right in. The house always had a distinct smell- like she had been cooking yet no pots and pans were ever in sight. The slight woman would be perched in her chair and we would enter, yelling “Grandma sent us over!” as we fumbled our way to her with our bounty.

As the years rolled on more of Grandma’s neighbors found themselves alone and we found ourselves venturing out to multiple homes each holiday. Some of the folks were nice and others…quite curt. One lady always spoke too loud and her house was perpetually dark and kind of eerie, regardless of the time of day. At some stops we had strict instructions to knock, set the plate on the step, and leave. Don’t mess around, don’t stand there expecting soft praise, just drop the goods and go. We would watch from the driveway as the door would slowly crack open and a hand would fetch the plate, often accompanied by a shifty-eyed look from behind the screen door. Most of the time, however, we were encouraged to linger so they could “get a look at us” or have us sit for a minute and talk about how we were doing in school. Anything to keep us there a bit longer, I suppose.

Looking back, I realize that Grandma wasn’t just helping others, she was molding each of us to think beyond ourselves. This small gesture each holiday served as a constant reminder that someone may have less than we did (even though we were not wealthy by any means!) It taught us in order to truly celebrate, you first must GIVE first. (As a surly teen, these lessons were probably lost on me as I was too worried about keeping my hair in place and wondering what my friends were up to.)

So, fast forward to now and it is no surprise the home-delivered meal program done by senior centers totally has my heart. What a way to connect, nourish and make the lives of someone better each and every day! I see the volunteers who dedicate their time to meal delivery, as extensions of my Grandma and her selfless compassion she demonstrated to her neighbors, friends, and us, her devoted grandchildren.

Standing in my Grandma’s kitchen waiting for the plates seems both like yesterday and a thousand years ago. I can still smell the food and hear my Grandma’s voice as she coaxed us out the door…teaching us to look beyond our selves and that sometimes all it takes is a plate.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

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