When Vicki Kohl retired from her packaging job in 2018, she looked forward to a life of leisure and sleeping in past 5 a.m. Trips to the lake became more frequent and all the things she wanted to do around the house were suddenly accomplished. For Vicki, life became really easy, really fast. Everything was less hectic, more relaxed — but something wasn’t right.
“I began to realize that retirement cut me off from daily contact with other people,” Vicki said. “My friends and family were all working or going to school during the day. I felt like I had no schedule and started watching too much TV.” Nobody told Vicki how lonely retirement could be.
“I turned to volunteer work to stay active and give back at the same time,” Vicki said. She started by answering phones at her local senior center. But when her granddaughter, Gabby, needed to log community service hours as part of her National Junior Honor’s Society obligation, Vicki had the idea to find a place where they could volunteer together. As a result, Vicki signed up with Gabby to work at a local non-profit where they sorted linens together. “It was for an important organization, but we didn’t find the work very fulfilling,” Vicki said. “We felt like we were in the background and didn’t get a sense that what we were doing was really making a difference.”
Then a search on VolunteerMatch connected Vicki and Gabby with Meals on Wheels. “We could immediately sense the connection at Meals on Wheels,” Vicki said. “You really feel like you’re a part of something when you’re there. Everything is transparent; you can see the drivers loading the trucks, you can see the freezers and smell the food from the kitchen. We truly felt like we were part of the mission.”
Time isn’t cheap and volunteers like Vicki need to know their work matters. They need to feel the flow of service around them; they need to see a beginning and an end. “At Meals on Wheels, everyone has their heart in what they do and everyone is there because they want to be.”
It was rewarding for Vicki to watch the delivery vans depart to deliver the meals she helped prepare. “There are some very poor areas in Cincinnati where this is the only food some people have access to,” Vicki said. “And for some people, those delivery drivers are the only people they come in contact with.”
Isolation is the new normal for many due to COVID-19, including Vicki. After losing a close friend to the virus, Vicki admits that she has become more withdrawn as a precaution to stay healthy. “I’m more isolated today because of the pandemic, so now I know what some seniors are going through.”
This made her volunteer work with Gabby all the more special to Vicki. In fact, Vicki has since recruited a second granddaughter, Allyssa, and one of Allyssa’s friends to her family team of volunteers at Meals on Wheels, proving that goodwill can also be contagious. “I feel blessed,” said Vicki. “The older they get, the less I know about them on a daily basis,” Vicki said. “So this time I spend with them volunteering and talking means the world to me. We’ll make a day of if and go out to lunch afterwards. I’m a very traditional person and I want them to have these memories. I want them to remember the things we have done together.”